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Leadership Deal Fails to Allay Democratic Unrest

A deal Speaker Nancy Pelosi struck Friday to stave off a messy Caucus leadership fight appears to have done little to tamp down insurgency in her ranks and build a consensus for her bid to be Minority Leader.

The California Democrat insisted in a meeting Monday with her top lieutenants that any unhappiness with her leadership is not widely felt and called it “a minor irritant,” according to several sources with knowledge of the meeting.

But it appears as if a group of Democrats remains unhappy with Pelosi’s decision to stay on as leader and are determined to try to delay leadership elections scheduled for Wednesday, amend Caucus rules to limit her power or send a message by voting down bills in the lame-duck session.

Pelosi is all but certain to prevail in her quest to be Minority Leader — she faces a token challenge from Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.) — and is likely to beat back efforts to change party rules. Still, she has some housekeeping to do: she has yet to flesh out the role that will be played by Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) next year as Assistant Leader, the post she announced Friday to avert a divisive showdown between him and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) for Minority Whip. Many Democrats had been urging her to negotiate a deal between Clyburn and Hoyer so that both men could have a place in the hierarchy next year.

Pelosi’s office denied that she described unrest in her Caucus as an “irritant,” calling the accounts “totally false.” But several Democratic sources said Pelosi and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), who co-chairs the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, were dismissive of Members being uneasy in the wake of the party’s dramatic losses on Nov. 2.

“It was like the election didn’t happen,” one senior Democratic aide said. Pelosi “thinks everything is going to be hunky-dory.”

DeLauro, a top Pelosi ally, referred to the Speaker’s critics as “mischief makers,” the aide said. DeLauro said that because those lawmakers couldn’t block Pelosi from becoming Minority Leader, they are instead targeting her and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who co-chair the Steering and Policy Committee.

DeLauro and Miller have both stayed in their posts beyond term limits prescribed by Caucus rules, and some Democrats have talked about trying to force them out. A host of other potential rules aimed at reining in Pelosi’s power have also been contemplated by some Members, including making the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee an elected post.

But the senior aide said Pelosi’s plan is to hold leadership elections first — scheduled for Wednesday — and then deal with Caucus rules changes later, when she will be in a position to exact retribution against her defectors.

A handful of moderate Democrats have already said they will not support Pelosi as Democratic leader and roughly two dozen others said before the election that they would prefer a more centrist leader. But Shuler, the only person to step forward to run against her, acknowledged he doesn’t have the votes to win.

Still, another senior Democratic aide said concerns about Pelosi’s leadership have not waned in recent days

“There’s a large group of people who are still scratching their heads, saying, ‘Why is she doing this?’” the aide said.

Meanwhile, Democratic Reps. Marcy Kaptur (Ohio) and Peter DeFazio (Ore.) are pressing ahead with their campaign to delay Wednesday’s leadership elections until December. They plan to urge Members returning to the Capitol on Monday night to sign on to a letter to leaders calling for the postponement. Sixteen Democrats had signed on to the letter as of Monday afternoon, according to Kaptur spokesman Steve Fought.

Fought noted that after House Democrats “took a thumping in 1994,” they did not hold leadership elections until Nov. 30. “First we need a strategy,” Fought said. “Then we need a leadership team to execute that strategy. Things are in reverse right now.”

A Democratic aide with ties to moderates said the test could come for Pelosi in the coming weeks when she tries to muster the votes for a controversial bill.

“That will demonstrate who’s really upset and who’s not,” the aide said.

The aide said there wouldn’t be much point in Pelosi reaching out to moderates as a group, at least for the time being, because many of them are “too disgusted” to listen.

“I don’t really know what good it would do. … You can’t put a Band-Aid on what happened on election night, and I don’t think there’s anything she can say right now,” the aide said.

Rep. Frank Pallone, however, insisted that the deal Pelosi brokered to make room for both Clyburn and Hoyer in leadership will tamp down Democratic infighting.

“I think it’s been worked out, and I’m happy with the fact that Mr. Clyburn is going to be the Assistant Leader,” the New Jersey Democrat said. “I think — from what I can see — it’s been worked out in a way that there should be a lot of unity.”

As of yet, Clyburn’s role in the leadership remains unclear, according to several senior Democratic aides.

“I don’t think it’s been defined,” one aide said. “If it’s been defined, it hasn’t been shared.”

“It seems like Members should have ideas of what the position should do before it’s brought up for a vote,” another aide said. “It’s a very high-level position, but no one has any idea of the role it plays in the Caucus.”

Pelosi told Democratic leaders Monday that the position was not “new” — and that they are dropping a couple of words in the title, the aide said. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) currently holds the title of Assistant to the Speaker, but that is not an elected position, nor are Van Hollen’s duties expected to just be handed over to Clyburn.

“They are still trying to work all that out,” a source close to Clyburn said. “He has some thoughts in terms of what he would like to do.”

Outreach to the White House is expected to be part of Clyburn’s portfolio.

“There are some natural things that work,” the source said. “He’s very close to the Obama administration and agencies.”

There also is jockeying over how big Clyburn’s budget will be, which office he will get in the Capitol and which other Members of leadership will see their duties or budgets trimmed to make room for the new slot, aides said.

Hoyer kept his distance from the deal Monday.

“That was something the Speaker and Mr. Clyburn believed was appropriate, and I think Congressman Clyburn being in the leadership … is a good thing,” the Maryland Democrat said.

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