The lingering uncertainty about whether Speaker Nancy Pelosi will stay on as Minority Leader is beginning to cause consternation among moderate Democrats who think it’s time for a leadership shake-up.
Two days after House Democrats lost more than 60 seats in their worst drubbing in decades, the California lawmaker has not said whether she intends to stay on as Democratic leader, fueling speculation in some circles that liberal supporters in the Caucus are asking her not to step aside. Pelosi told ABC’s Diane Sawyer on Wednesday that she had not yet decided whether to seek the Minority Leader post and would “have a conversation with [her] family and pray over it, and decide how to go forward.” Pelosi’s office said Thursday that there was no updated information about when the Speaker might announce a decision.
The prospect of Pelosi remaining the face of House Democrats has prompted some of the moderates that survived Tuesday’s beating to become more outspoken about the need for fresh leadership.
“I think its time to shake things up,” said Rep. Jim Matheson, the only co-chair of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition to win re-election Tuesday. The Utah Democrat’s two fellow co-chairs – Reps. Baron Hill (D-Ind.) and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) — were among the roughly two dozen Blue Dogs that lost their re-election bids, thinning the group by nearly half. But many of the remaining Blue Dogs are California lawmakers, some of whom are close to Pelosi.
Matheson said Pelosi “was clearly a lightning rod during this election,” noting that efforts to tie Democrats to the Speaker were “clearly a factor in a lot of Congressional districts across the country.
“This was not a normal election, so I would submit that everyone ought to acknowledge that and not be in denial about that,” he said. “When … you have an election result of the magnitude that took place here, I think there’s an argument that you need to shake things up.”
Matheson’s Blue Dog colleague Heath Shuler said Thursday that he didn’t “think it would be in the best interest” of House Democrats for Pelosi, a liberal, to be Minority Leader, and he predicted she would step aside in the wake of Tuesday’s losses. But should Pelosi decide to stay on, Shuler — who threatened before the election to challenge Pelosi as Speaker in a Democratic majority — said he would challenge the California Democrat for Minority Leader if no one else does.
“If there’s not a viable alternative, like I said all along, I can go recruit moderate Members to run in swing districts,” said the North Carolina Democrat, who is a leader of the Blue Dog Coalition. “In that situation, I could do it better than she could, and that’s what it’s going to take. It’s going to take moderate candidates to win back those seats.”
Republicans worked hard to make Pelosi a liability for Democrats on the campaign trial, and many Democrats campaigned against her. Nearly two dozen stopped short of saying they would support her again as Speaker or said outright that they wouldn’t.
“In a lot of these races, it was clear that her being the face of the agenda and the party was not helpful, and at some point that should enter into any decision-making that goes forward,” said a lobbyist with ties to Blue Dogs.
But the source speculated that “there are a lot of progressives that are urging [Pelosi] to stay.” Other lobbyists have also said Pelosi’s allies are encouraging her to remain atop the Democratic leadership.
The Blue Dog-linked lobbyist said the indecision was problematic because “it freezes everything in place,” including Demcorats’ ability to regroup and set a minority strategy and agenda.
An aide close to the Blue Dogs said most members of the group “feel like we have an opportunity to move the party toward the middle,” adding, “We just lost a lot of seats, and it must be time for a little bit of a shake-up.”
Shuler, who beat back a tough challenge from Republican Jeff Miller, said he was convinced Pelosi would step aside because she was “very smart” and a “team player.”
“I don’t foresee her accepting that role [Minority Leader] for the simple fact of what just happened,” he said.
But others are growing less sure, as Pelosi’s ranks have closed in around her in the election’s aftermath.
One sign that she may be staying is the letter she sent Wednesday to House colleagues congratulating them on re-election, but also directing their attention to the work that remains.
“I think she is going to stay,” said one Democratic lobbyist, who drew parallels between Pelosi and former Speaker Sam Rayburn (Texas).
Rayburn, who served a record 17 years as Speaker, stayed on as Minority Leader twice when Republicans won the majority.
Several moderate Democratic lawmakers and their allies said privately before the election that they would prefer Majority Leader Steny Hoyer as Democratic Leader. But there does not appear to be an active campaign to draft the Maryland Democrat, perhaps largely out of deference to Pelosi, and those close to Hoyer insist her would never challenge her.
“Everybody is waiting to see what she chooses, because it is a choice,” one Democratic lobbyist said, noting that there is little chance of any Members going head-to-head to try to defeat Pelosi for the Minority Leader slot. “She can make it simple by going and doing something else with her life.”