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Frustrated Democrats See DCCC Overhaul As Step Toward Electoral Success

Minority leader now supports directly electing DCCC chairman

New York Rep. Kathleen Rice thinks the DCCC hasn't been transparent enough and wants the chairman to be directly elected by the caucus. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
New York Rep. Kathleen Rice thinks the DCCC hasn't been transparent enough and wants the chairman to be directly elected by the caucus. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

After winning re-election as minority leader Wednesday morning, Nancy Pelosi came out late Wednesday night in support of one of the changes pushed most strongly by her opponents.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter, she embraced the idea of the full caucus directly electing the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. She also said she’d support the creation of five regional vice chairmen.

The House Democrats’ campaign arm is under scrutiny from members who are demanding change after the party netted just six seats this year — below even the most pessimistic projections of how many seats the party could gain in a presidential year.

The caucus is expected to vote on Thursday on amendments to the rules for how leadership positions are filled. Many of the members who are frustrated with Pelosi’s tenure would prefer to see certain leadership roles elected by the caucus. That’s especially true with the top job at the DCCC, where some members say there hasn’t been enough focus on winning back red-leaning districts. 

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we had … four or five people who wanted to run the DCCC come before the caucus and say, ‘Here’s my strategy.’ And then someone says, ‘This is my strategy.’ And they would then compete and talk to members,” Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan said Wednesday, after losing his bid for minority leader.

But it’s not just Ryan backers who have been sympathetic to overhauling how the DCCC leader is chosen. “The more invested members feel in the DCCC, I think the stronger we are,” Michigan Rep. Dan Kildee, a Pelosi backer, said Wednesday. Pelosi’s embrace of the proposal ahead of Thursday’s caucus meeting suggests the amendment may have wide support.

Pelosi renominated New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Luján to chair the DCCC last week. But the frustration from some members who want to see changes at the DCCC is not with Luján himself. 

“If it were to be an elected position, and if he were to run for it, I think he’d win,” Kildee said of Luján. 

Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego, who backed Ryan for leader, agreed that Luján would win. Along with several other members, the Arizona Democrat has been behind the push to make the chairman an elected job.

“Luján is not the problem. It is the structure of how Luján is put in power,” Gallego said.

New York Rep. Kathleen Rice, a vocal critic of Pelosi’s grip on leadership and one of Ryan’s earliest backers, doesn’t have a problem with Luján either but feels that there’s currently no accountability at the DCCC. 

“We’re here now, three weeks post-Election Day, and we have not done a post-mortem on what went wrong,” Rice said. 

Pelosi and Luján gathered with members and members-elect on Nov. 17 for a preliminary post-election assessment.

On Tuesday, DCCC national press secretary Meredith Kelly tweeted that if if members want to shape the direction of the DCCC, they should attend recruitment and strategy meetings and pay their dues — a not-so-subtle dig at Ryan for not being very active with the committee. 

Rice took to Twitter herself to criticize DCCC and DNC staffers for “pick[ing] favorites.”

Rice, a freshman from Long Island, said she did regularly attend recruitment meetings, but she and other Democrats coming out of Wednesday’s leadership election said they know of members who already don’t pay their dues out of frustration with the way the DCCC is run. 

“I paid my dues, but I didn’t give a penny more,” Rice said.

“I’ll tell you, it bothered me to have to write a six-figure check to an organization that I didn’t know where they were going to spend that money,” Rice said. She preferred to give directly to vulnerable members and Red to Blue recruits. 

Sitting in what was rated a safe Democratic seat before the election, Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz had one of the closest elections of any incumbent Democrat this year. He won by less than a point. What’s striking to him is that no one at the DCCC or in leadership has asked him how he won a district that Hillary Clinton lost.

“I think they’re doing as a good a job as you can do,” Walz said of the DCCC. “But the point is, we just kind of hope they do a good job. There’s no feedback.”

He opposed Pelosi for leader and supports electing the DCCC chairman to increase transparency and member engagement.

“I don’t think there’s the buy-in,” Walz said of members who don’t pay dues because they feel they don’t have a say. 

Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader, co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, echoed that members won’t want to pay their dues if they don’t feel they’re being represented at the DCCC. 

“The people that are chosen to run the DCCC don’t represent the Blue Dog districts we need to win,” he said.

Much of the angst toward the DCCC that has emerged from frustrated members seems to be with a staff they think is handpicked by Pelosi, too. Gallego said that’s been one of his main complaints to Luján. 

Asked what specifically needs to change at the DCCC, whether with the structure or the staff, Rice said she’d like the decision-making to be more transparent.

“Look, if a private company were run this way, the head of that company would have been out six years ago,” she said. 

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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