Shuler Could Challenge Pelosi for Minority Leader

Posted November 4, 2010 at 12:55pm

Updated: 8:23 p.m.

Rep. Heath Shuler predicted Thursday that Speaker Nancy Pelosi would act in the “best interest” of the Democratic Caucus and bow out of leadership, but said he would challenge the California Democrat for Minority Leader if she tried to stay on and no “viable alternative” candidate emerged.

“If there’s not a viable alternative — like I said all along — I can go recruit moderate Members to run in swing districts,” said Shuler, a leader of the fiscally conservative 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.”

The North Carolina Democrat said 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 election in which Democrats lost at least 60 seats. Pelosi has not yet said what her next move will be.

“I don’t foresee her accepting that role for the simple fact of what has happened,” said Shuler, who saw roughly two dozen of his Blue Dog colleagues lose re-election Tuesday.

Shuler said Pelosi has become a polarizing figure, and he said it would be tough for her to recruit moderate Democrats to run in conservative districts in 2012.

“One of the most important things when it comes to leadership and the party’s standpoint is recruiting — we have to be able to go to these areas and recruit,” Shuler said, adding that those skills would be particularly vital now as Democrats work to build back toward a majority.

Pelosi has been meeting with other top House Democrats and allies. In a Wednesday interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, Pelosi said 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.”

Shuler, who beat back a tough challenge from Republican Jeff Miller, said he was convinced that Pelosi would step aside because she was “very smart” and a “team player.”

“She will realize the most important thing we have to do is recruit,” he said, adding that Pelosi undoubtedly still would play a strong role in the Caucus if she wanted to, particularly because of her strong fundraising skills.

But speculation has been mounting that Pelosi might try to stay on, and several sources with ties to Blue Dogs are concerned about that prospect.

“I personally like and respect the Speaker, but I just am not sure that her staying is the best thing in the Caucus for the long run,” one Democratic lobbyist with ties to Blue Dogs said Thursday.

At least one member of Pelosi’s home-state delegation wants her out.

A senior aide to a California Democrat said the lawmaker is “very frustrated with how things have gone” and is interested in looking “at a regrouping of the leadership.”

“I think we need to consider what the next step is for the party, especially after the midterms that just occurred,” the aide said.

The aide added that the lawmaker is “very disappointed that more was not done and more was not focused on jobs and the economy.” The Californian also is unhappy that Pelosi did not allow a vote before the elections on a temporary extension of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for all income brackets, a position that many moderate Democrats embraced, the aide said. Pelosi and the White House favored limiting the cuts for upper-income households, and she ended up punting on the issue.

“Had that maybe been more of an issue … we might have had more Members come back,” the aide said.

Shuler said before the elections that he would challenge Pelosi for Speaker if Democrats retained the House and there was not another alternative. He said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) would be a “viable alternative.”

Hoyer would be the heir apparent to lead the Caucus in Pelosi’s stead; he said Wednesday that he would seek the post if Pelosi does not. Hoyer and his allies insist that he would never challenge the Speaker for the Minority Leader post, and they have been careful to avoid the perception that he might be jockeying for the post before Pelosi announces what she will do.

Shuler said he spoke to Hoyer on election night, but said that leadership moving forward was not discussed.

“We were both heartbroken — along with all of us — that we lost the House and some of our friends are going to be gone,” Shuler said.