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Democratic Aides on Hill Sour on Pelosi, Survey Finds

Many say California Democrat should step down, regardless of November result

Ousting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi “would not be the smart thing to do,” a former spokesman says. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Ousting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi “would not be the smart thing to do,” a former spokesman says. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In a sign of the growing unrest on the left, a plurality of Democratic congressional aides surveyed by CQ Roll Call last month said the party should replace Nancy Pelosi as leader whether Democrats win a House majority in November or not.

The Capitol Insiders Survey, which CQ Roll Call emailed to aides on July 13 and remained open till July 18, drew responses from 191 aides, 103 of them Democrats, 84 Republicans and four independents.

In addition to the 41 percent who said Pelosi should not return as leader in 2019 no matter what, another 23 percent said she should not if Democrats fail to retake control of the House, while 29 percent said Democrats should give her another term as leader, win or lose.

But it’s not the aides who will vote, it’s their bosses. In 2016, Democratic respondents to CQ Roll Call’s survey preferred Tim Ryan, the Ohio Democrat who opposed Pelosi in that year’s leadership election, by a margin of 40 percent to 35 percent, while Pelosi won the actual election by a 2-1 margin.

Ousting her “would not be the smart thing to do,” said Brendan Daly, a former Pelosi spokesman who’s now senior director of communications at activist group Save the Children Action Network. “It’s very difficult to hold the caucus together. There’s a lot of ideological diversity there, much more so than in the Republican Party, and she’s demonstrated she can win votes, and tough votes.”

Steve Elmendorf, who was once chief of staff for Pelosi’s predecessor, Missouri Democrat Richard A. Gephardt, and is now a partner at lobbying firm Subject Matter, said the results are a reflection that “the staff don’t have the personal relationships with her that members do.” He expects that if Democrats win the House, the party’s success will work to Pelosi’s advantage.

Nearly four in five Democratic aides do expect they’ll retake the House, and nearly as high a percentage of those Democrats who work for House members said they approved of Pelosi’s performance as leader.

The aides do worry about the growing anger among the party’s progressive base, though. Nearly two in three said the “Abolish ICE” movement that wants to get rid of the Homeland Security Department’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement division because of its role in separating immigrant families at the border will hurt Democrats in November if it continues.

“They are seeing that it could be a distraction and take away from the more salient issues surrounding family separation, DACA and comprehensive immigration reform,” said Anne MacMillan, a former senior policy adviser to Pelosi who’s now with the lobbying firm Invariant.

Democrats, however, were divided on whether the confrontations between activists and Trump administration officials in public settings — such as a Virginia restaurant’s refusal to serve Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders last month — will help or hurt the party in the election, should they continue.

Nearly a third of the Democratic aides who took the poll said the confrontations would help the party, while a slightly larger group, 36 percent, said they would hurt it. The rest were not sure.

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