Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is moving to reshape House Democrats’ main policy arm and may install a key ally from California, Rep. George Miller, as its chairman.
Leadership sources are keeping details of the new structure of the Democratic Policy Committee close to the vest, and insiders stressed that Pelosi has not signed off on a final plan. Generally, however, sources said Pelosi plans to revamp the committee to give greater focus to the broader party message and to get Members involved in its operation.
Democratic aides said Pelosi, in addition to considering Miller as the new DPC chairman, has contemplated asking as many as 12 Members to oversee the committee. In the mid-1990s the DPC had six chairmen, with three pairs assigned to legislation, communications and research.
Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said the leader is still deciding how best to restructure the DPC and declined to elaborate on the details.
But he said Members can expect the DPC to involve more Members and hold a stronger communications element than in the past, hoping to ensure that Democrats read from the same script when it comes to major policy initiatives.
“She wants to be responsive to the Members and to our larger goal of getting our message out so that the American people know what Democrats stand for,” Daly said.
“The leader is right on target toward having a more proactive and effective DPC,” said Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.). “If she structures it in a way that includes all elements of the Caucus … it can be a very useful arm of the Democratic Caucus.”
Democratic sources said Pelosi is considering tapping Miller, one of her closest allies and the ranking member on the Education and the Workforce Committee, to serve as chairman of the new DPC. Other sources suggested she may pick Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), now co-chairwoman of the Democratic Steering Committee.
Miller helped spearhead Pelosi’s ascension to leader and remains one of her closest advisers. When asked about the restructuring and the possibility he would serve as a chairman, Miller said: “I don’t know. I haven’t been told that.”
DeLauro similarly said she hadn’t been approached about a role, but did acknowledge that Pelosi is looking at ways to structure the DPC differently. “I’m always interested in public policy, that’s where I gravitate to,” she said. “But I have no knowledge of that.”
The Connecticut lawmaker said many of the DPC functions of the past should continue, including “the very thorough public policy conversations.” On top of that, DeLauro suggested Democrats could also do more outreach to outside groups and individuals and within the Caucus to exchange ideas about issues.
One Democratic aide suggested the new DPC, while honing in on the Democratic message, cannot abandon policy details altogether. That aide also stressed that while greater Member involvement is key, it must not consist simply of Pelosi advocates, but rather a cross-section of Members.
Pelosi also has to decide on a staff director for the DPC, as well as some other aides. Democratic sources indicated Pelosi initially wanted to hire John Lawrence, staff director to Miller and the Education committee minority, to head up the policy shop, but he declined.
The DPC serves as the House minority’s policy information clearinghouse, dispensing issue packets to Members, analyzing legislation and helping to breed consensus among Members on key issues. The DPC has been in place for some time but has changed structurally over the years.
Former Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) most recently ran a very centralized DPC, with Gephardt himself leading it and his staff doing the work. But those changes came after Democrats fell to the minority in 1995.
“When we were in the majority, the committee chairman drove the agenda,” said one senior Democratic aide. “Gephardt drove the agenda when we went into the minority.”
Another top Democratic aide noted that Gephardt “tried to consolidate all the power.” But that aide added that if Pelosi truly wants to change the DPC, she should look beyond Miller, who already is at the center of her decision-making and mirrors her political ideology.
Regardless of the final design, some Democratic aides questioned why Pelosi has taken two months to get the structure in place and when Members can expect to see the DPC fully operational.
“There’s no go-to person as there has been in the past,” said one Democratic aide. “It just doesn’t seem set up.”
Another Democrat aide added: “It’s fair to say that there has been some surprise among Members and staff that things haven’t gotten moving a little sooner at the DPC. But ultimately it seems that Members want to give Pelosi the benefit of the doubt and think she’s doing a pretty good job so far.”
DeLauro, for one, also said she feels that Pelosi has kept pace, adding that Democrats have been given all the policy material they need, and kept atop key issues such as launching an economic stimulus plan in the first weeks of the 108th Congress.
“The timeline is good,” DeLauro said. “She understands it, she gets it and she works on it. Being thoughtful is very important.”