Pelosi Friends to Reap Rewards

Posted November 10, 2008 at 5:30pm

Updated: Nov. 11, 12:18 p.m.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is poised to stock the ranks of House Democratic leadership with committed loyalists, squeezing out two ambitious lawmakers who don’t belong to her inner circle.

Maneuvers at the top of the Democratic ladder in recent days have limited the options for Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) and Joe Crowley (N.Y.), both of whom raised more money for the party this cycle than some elected leadership members.

Wasserman Schultz was considered an odds-on favorite to head up the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee over the next two years. But Pelosi last week persuaded Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) to take another turn leading the campaign arm, even after he publicly declared he would not.

The Marylander had been gearing up a run for House Democratic Caucus Chairman, the fourth-ranking slot in leadership, which opened up when Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) accepted the job of chief of staff in the Obama White House. But by prevailing on Van Hollen to stay put, Pelosi cleared the way for Rep. John Larson (Conn.), one of her allies and the current Caucus Vice Chairman, to claim the title.

The contest to replace Larson, too, now favors a key Pelosi loyalist: Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), who serves as the Assistant to the Speaker, an unelected position. Crowley had been Becerra’s most serious potential rival for the post, but he announced Monday afternoon that he was instead throwing his support behind Becerra.

Crowley’s decision disappointed leading moderate Democrats, who fear liberals in the Caucus are consolidating their power. They had been lobbying hard for Crowley, a leading member of the business-friendly New Democrat Coalition, to make the race.

In the developments shaping the makeup of the House Democratic leadership team for the next Congress, some Democrats saw the heavy hand of the Speaker — and questioned the message that it appeared to send to others in the Caucus.

“You can say she’s done well, but will it serve her well?” one senior Democratic aide said. “Is it smart to have people who don’t question you around the leadership table?”

Neither Crowley nor Wasserman Schultz are seen as Pelosi adversaries, but they are extremely close with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), one of the moderates’ most ardent advocates. Crowley and Wasserman Schultz supported Hoyer two years ago when another Pelosi friend, Rep. John Murtha (Pa.), challenged the veteran Marylander for the Democrats’ newly acquired Majority Leader job. Pelosi supported Murtha over Hoyer in that race.

The past notwithstanding, several Democrats said the latest developments in the Democratic leadership slow the ascent of Wasserman Schultz and Crowley, two rising stars from the party’s moderate wing.

Wasserman Schultz, who co-chaired the DCCC’s “Red to Blue” and “Frontline” programs, raised $5.7 million for the party this cycle through September, according to a tally by the campaign committee. That made her the party’s sixth most prolific fundraiser, not counting her dues obligations. Crowley, chairman of the DCCC’s Business Council, raised $6.4 million, placing him fourth — behind Pelosi, Van Hollen and Hoyer.

Larson, for his part, raised a little more than $1 million, placing him 20th among his colleagues. And Becerra pulled in just more than $600,000, placing him 31st.

“It shows that if you work hard, roll up your sleeves, bring dynamic energy and demonstrate loyalty, that’s not enough,” another senior Democratic aide said. “It’s discouraging for people.”

Pelosi’s office declined to comment for this story.

Wasserman Schultz has ruled out a run for either Caucus chairman or Caucus vice chairman, according to a spokesman. In a statement, her office said the Florida Democrat “feels privileged to have been entrusted” with significant responsibilities in her short House career and “plans to continue to work hard within the Caucus and at the DCCC to bring about the change that Americans voted for last Tuesday.”

Kate Winkler, Crowley’s chief of staff, said her boss decided against making a leadership race out of respect for Becerra. “They’ve worked really well together, and it’s just as important to Joe as it is to the Democratic Caucus to have a diverse leadership table,” she said. “He wants to support Xavier — he thinks it’s important.”

Becerra still faces a potential challenge from Rep. Kendrick Meek (Fla.), another Pelosi favorite, and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (Ohio).

Pelosi allies note that neither Wasserman Schultz nor Crowley walk away from possible promotions down the line. Only now wrapping up her second term, Wasserman Schultz already wields a subcommittee gavel on the Appropriation Committee. Crowley has a coveted seat on the Ways and Means panel as well as a leadership role — as one of four vice chairs — with the New Democrats, a group positioned to wield greater influence next year. Both Democrats also serve as chief deputy whips.

But with Emanuel, a whip-smart centrist thinker, now gone, more liberal Members are clearly ascendant. And while the leadership lineup appears to be settling in, another position key to the ideological direction of the Caucus remains in flux: Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) remains in a pitched battle with the second-ranking member of that committee, the liberal Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), for his gavel.

Pelosi has remained neutral in that race, although Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), her top lieutenant, is making calls for Waxman.