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Why Nancy Pelosi isn't going anywhere

Five hundred days of Nancy Pelosi.

That’s how long disgruntled House Democrats have begun to accept that the California Democrat will continue leading them, despite painful special election losses that prompted partywide soul-searching and demands from a handful of lawmakers for her immediate ouster.

House Democrats are acknow-ledging there’s virtually no chance she’s going anywhere before the 2018 congressional elections — more than 16 months away — despite a sense of unrest and scattered calls for Pelosi’s resignation as Democratic leader.

A loss in a highly contested Georgia special election last week led Pelosi’s detractors to turn up the volume on calls for an immediate leadership change. Pelosi, after all, played a starring role in GOP ads in the contest, and many Democrats believe — fairly or not — she’s become an effective weapon against Democratic candidates. But after an initial frustrated outburst, calls for Pelosi’s removal appear to have dissipated.

Now even many of her detractors say they expect Pelosi to finish out her two-year term atop the Democratic Caucus — and the debate over who should lead the Democratic Party into the future will be decided then.

“She’s been authorized to provide leadership, good or bad, for the next two years,” said Rep. Steve Lynch of Massachusetts, who supported a challenge to Pelosi in November. “I think in fairness we owe her that. We owe her two years.”

Some members say starting over with a new leadership team now would be too much trouble — distracting the caucus at a time when they want to train their energy on derailing President Donald Trump’s agenda. Others say the question was settled during the leadership race last November, and this spring’s four losing special elections don’t necessitate an immediate change. Pelosi should be judged, they say, on the results of the 2018 elections.

“If we win, everything is good. If we don’t win, then we can have this discussion,” Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas said in an interview. “But we don’t do this in the middle of the game.”

Pelosi herself expressed confidence last week that the Democratic Caucus is “overwhelmingly” behind her, and her supporters say they’re convinced last week’s outburst was short-lived. “This sort of petered out,” said a senior Democratic aide.

The decision by Pelosi detractors to take their foot off the gas is a gamble for Democrats hungry to take back the House after years in the wilderness. Republicans are relishing the Democratic turmoil and gleefully continuing to harness Pelosi’s polarizing persona in political campaigns and attacks. A pro-Trump super PAC even invoked Pelosi in a short-lived ad attacking Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) for refusing to support the Senate GOP’s health care legislation.

Pelosi allies also reject the contention that ad campaigns against her have worked, dismissing the results of a recent Republican memo suggesting Pelosi is deeply unpopular in a slew of swing congressional districts. “If anything, this memo shows Republicans are on defense. Desperation is not a strategy and Republicans will not be able to spend $25 million on each and every seat,” said Pelosi spokesman Jorge Aguilar.

Pelosi defiantly declared last week that only she would decide when to step down — and she doesn’t plan to go anywhere right now. And even Democrats who say they would support a credible leadership challenge against her concede it’s not on the horizon anytime soon.

“The path for a leadership election is not there,” said Rep. Filemon Vela of Texas, who last week said only “an idiot” would think Democrats could win back the House with Pelosi in charge. “The problem is I think she’s essentially right that the decision to go or stay is her decision.”

That’s an unacceptable outcome, though, to some of Pelosi’s sharpest detractors in the Democratic ranks, including Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts. To accept Pelosi as leader, he said, is to accept more losses in 2018.

“We don’t have time to wait,” he said. “We need to start winning elections, and we need to make changes to make sure we can do so now.”

Despite the contention by some Democrats that talks about immediately replacing Pelosi are dissipating, Moulton said they’re privately intensifying.

“I have people come up to me who have publicly supported her in the past say to me, ‘Seth you need to keep doing what you’re doing, we need to do this and it needs to happen now’,” he said. “Judging by the number of people who have previously been on the other side of the issue as recently as November and are now calling for change, yes, I think momentum is growing.”

One of those Pelosi backers, who requested anonymity, said the challenge for those who want to replace her immediately is that no one has stepped forward to mount a challenge.

“You can’t beat somebody with nobody,” the lawmaker said. “The other members who have the kind of gravitas and kind of earned status in the caucus have not been willing to run.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley of New York, and Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond of Louisiana have all been floated as potential successors. But none stepped forward to challenge Pelosi, and they aren’t expected to do so.

Richmond, who attended last week’s meeting to discuss ousting Pelosi, said he wouldn’t want the job even if it didn’t involve challenging Democrats’ longtime leader.

“What? No. No, indeed,” he said when asked about the possibility. “I’m happy where I’m at with the Congressional Black Caucus and that’s where I intend to stay.”

Pelosi also has her vocal defenders, too. They argue that fixating on a leadership fight detracts from efforts to remain laser-focused on the GOP agenda, especially efforts to undo Obamacare.

“I’m not a big believer in matricide,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.). “I don’t think we should be eating our own.”

The dozen Democrats who huddled last week to talk about a new leadership regime haven’t met again and don’t plan to reconvene until after the July 4 recess. Some members of the group admit they don’t even know how that would work procedurally, questioning the seriousness of the effort.

And Pelosi, while significantly unpopular overall with voters, still has strong support within the Democratic base. While only 31 percent of voters in the latest Politico/Morning Consult poll said they view Pelosi favorably, 49 percent of Democrats polled view her favorably with many saying they want her to stay on as leader.

But Republicans are showing no signs of abandoning their long-running narrative depicting Pelosi as the GOP’s boogeyman. A recent memo from the Paul Ryan-backed Congressional Leadership Fund showed Pelosi’s favorables upside down in nearly a dozen battleground districts that could be key to House control.

“During the 2018 cycle, CLF will spend millions of dollars highlighting Nancy Pelosi’s toxic agenda and reminding voters across the country that Democratic candidates are nothing more than rubber stamps for her out-of-touch, liberal policies,” CLF Executive Director Corry Bliss wrote in the memo.

But even lawmakers who say Pelosi has earned her spot at the top and should be allowed to stay through next year admit the conversation about a leadership change is not too far off.

“I think we’ll certainly have it next year after the midterm election,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). “Everything’s about timing in life and politics. This is not the right time.”

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