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GOP Targets Pelosi’s Tenure

With Democrats continuing their efforts to pillory House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Republicans in recent weeks have stepped up their individual attacks on Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) with an eye toward painting her as liberal, unethical and a poor spokeswoman for her party.

Pelosi has endured a steady and predictable stream of criticism from the right since she first became Minority Leader in 2003. But while Republicans in the past expended their energy trying to portray her as out of touch with the country, GOP lawmakers and strategists have recently shifted their tactics toward highlighting the alleged distance between Pelosi and Members of her own party.

Republicans have sought to emphasize apparent divisions within the Democratic Caucus by highlighting GOP bills that have drawn significant Democratic support and excoriating Pelosi for her alleged inability to craft a coherent party agenda beyond complaining about the ethics process.

“You have to have a plan in order to be a leader,” said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). “She doesn’t have one, and that’s what we’re trying to point out.”

For her part, Pelosi said Wednesday that the latest round of attacks against her were “par for the course for the Republicans.” She said she’s not concerned that the GOP can hurt her politically, or her standing as the Democratic leader.

“This is a diversionary tactic,” she said. “Republicans are trying to divert attention away from their own problems. They are trying to change the subject.”

Pelosi acknowledged that, given her position, she will inevitably be subject to these attacks by the other side of the aisle.

“I understand how it works around here,” she said. “We have to always be ready to take the punches.”

In order to highlight internal Democratic divisions, Republicans have been touting several bills, including bankruptcy reform, class-action reform and the estate tax repeal, that each attracted more than 40 Democratic votes despite Pelosi’s opposition.

Republicans began employing this tactic in earnest following passage of the bankruptcy bill, when Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) pointed out to his fellow leaders that several recent measures seemed to be attracting Democratic support.

“We have had several strategy discussions in recent days to step up our criticism of her,” a Republican leadership aide said. “It’s only recently that her policy missteps have allowed us to paint her as out of touch.”

At an event Wednesday touting Republicans’ accomplishments in the first 100 days of the 109th Congress, Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio) took a clear shot at Pelosi and other Democratic leaders.

“This pattern, where rank-and-file Democrats abandon leadership to support marquee legislation that shows their constituents they’re working to help improve Americans’ quality of life, by the other party has been set, and it shows no signs of stopping anytime soon,” Pryce said.

At his pen-and-pad briefing later Wednesday, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) made a similar point, reciting the litany of GOP bills that have drawn some Democratic support while making sure to add, “although Leader Pelosi voted against almost everything.”

Republicans have also been working to draw attention to Pelosi’s recent appearance on ABC News’ “This Week,” cutting highlight videos and e-mailing transcripts to reporters to make the argument that she is an inarticulate party spokeswoman on ethics, Social Security and a host of other issues.

For the GOP, the targeting of Pelosi represents an effort to shift the media’s attention away from its current focus on Congressional travel and DeLay’s ethics back toward the legislative scorecard, where Republicans believe they are on firmer ground.

To that end, Republicans have sought to hammer the message that Democrats have no agenda of their own and lay the blame at Pelosi’s feet.

One GOP leadership aide summed up the message by saying, “We’ve moved from the idea that Democrats and Republicans have competing ideas to a situation where you have the Republican Party and the anti-Republican Party.”

Republicans have so far been unable to produce any tangible polling evidence to show that their attacks on Pelosi are working. While some surveys have shown the public’s opinion of House Democrats at an all-time low, House Republicans haven’t fared any better in recent polls.

Democratic leadership sources said they are already huddling to come up with ways to defend Pelosi. Just as some rank-and-file Republicans have begun taking to the House floor to defend DeLay and attack his critics, Democratic sources say they are likely to similarly enlist their Members to use the floor and other public forums to rally behind Pelosi.

“We will have folks ready to respond,” one leadership aide said. “This is our leader, people will be ready to defend her.”

This staffer said Democrats expected the assault on Pelosi to intensify as the heat was turned up on DeLay. “They are trying to take out anyone who they think is effective. This is what they do.”

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