Do Democrats Have A Pelosi Problem?
Recent reports have indicated that doubts are growing about the wisdom of keeping California Democrat Nancy Pelosi at the top of House Leadership.
An NBC News survey of Democratic candidates for the House finds that there are a sizable number of Democrats who say they would oppose California Congresswoman, and current House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi in a vote for Speaker of the House:
WASHINGTON — As Democrats battle to retake control of Congress in November, their leader — Nancy Pelosi — could also be facing a coming fight of her own.
Fifty Democrats running for the House say they won’t support the California lawmaker for speaker, according to an NBC News survey of candidates and their public statements.
At least 41 of the party’s nominees for House seats have declared they will not back Pelosi and nine incumbent Democratic lawmakers are on the record opposing her.
The most recent voice to the chorus came Thursday, when Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib, who is on track to become the first Muslim woman in Congress, said she would “probably not” support Pelosi because “she doesn’t speak about the issues that are important to the families of the 13th congressional district, and they are a priority for me.”
An additional 34 Democratic nominees are neither for nor against Pelosi, who has led her party in Congress since 2003.
The significant opposition is a sign of the movement for a generational change in Democratic leadership on the Hill — some believe that Pelosi should step aside so younger members of the party can move up in its ranks. The majority are Democrats running in Republican voting areas, where the minority leader is despised by the GOP. And some of it stems from the ascendant progressive movement, which wants to promote different policies and take a more aggressive approach in Congress to the Republicans and to President Donald Trump.
The anti-Pelosi contingent runs from competitive districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 to areas overwhelmingly carried by Trump. And among recruits in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red-to-Blue” program for targeted districts, 21 candidates say they will not vote for Pelosi as leader, 20 are neither against nor for and four support her. NBC could not find positions for the other 11 candidates and their campaigns did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
For her part, Pelosi has not asked anyone to back her for House speaker should Democrats win the House in November, her office said.
“Leader Pelosi has always enjoyed the overwhelming support of House Democrats and that will continue into the majority she’s so focused on winning,” her deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, said Thursday when asked about the NBC News survey.
On a similar note, The Washington Post notes that Pelosi has increasingly become the focus of Republican candidates for the House:
While Democrats grow optimistic about their chances of taking control of the House in November, they are increasingly anxious that the presence of their longtime and polarizing leader, Nancy Pelosi, is making it harder for many of their candidates to compete in crucial swing districts.
Republicans, clinging to a 23-seat majority in the House, have made the House minority leader a central element of their attack ads and are portraying many of their opponents as inextricably tied to the liberal from San Francisco. At the same time, some Democrats are expressing alarm that she is standing in the way of the next generation of leaders.
The tension was apparent Thursday, when Rashida Tlaib became at least the 27th Democratic House candidate to decline to say whether she would support Pelosi. Some Democrats fear that anti-Pelosi attacks aimed at the Democratic candidate in this week’s special election in an Ohio congressional district helped push the Republican to a narrow lead.
The dynamic creates a conundrum for Democrats, many of whom rely on Pelosi’s fundraising prowess and admire her political savvy and status as one of the country’s most influential female leaders. But some also are beginning to speak out about how allowing Pelosi to remain in charge of the caucus could reduce the size of a Democratic wave in November or worse, imperil their ability to win the majority.
This isn’t the first time that Pelosi has faced a potential rebellion from within her own ranks and her own party. In the wake of the 2016 elections in which Democrats fell far short of winning back control of the House even though they did manage to make some small gains, Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic House leadership were forced to deal with a challenge from younger members of the caucus. In the end, Pelosi and the rest of her leadership team ended up winning re-election rather easily, but in some sense, this was a preview of what Pelosi might face in November regardless of what happens in the battle for control of Congress. Whether it will be successful, however, is another question entirely.
Taking on Nancy Pelosi is no small task for any Democrat. She is the longest-serving party leader in the House in either party since the days when Sam Rayburn and Joseph Martin served as the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties from the 1940s through the 1950s. Pelosi, on the other hand, has led her party as both Speaker and Minority Leader since Democrats captured the House for the first time since the 1994 elections in 2002. Before that, she served as Minority Whip under former Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, who retired after the 2002 election. She has been a member of the House of Representatives since 1986 and would clearly be easily re-elected to that post for as long as she chooses to continue running for re-election. By contrast, during the time that Pelosi has been the leader of her party in the House, Republicans have gone through three changes in leadership from Dennis Hastert, to John Boehner, and finally, most recently Paul Ryan. If she remains at the top of her party after this election she will have served with four separate Republican Speakers or Minority Leaders. If Democrats take the House back and Pelosi ends up being re-elected she will be the first person since Sam Rayburn in 1955 to win back the Speaker’s gavel after having lost it.
In addition to all of this, Pelosi has managed to maintain an extraordinary hold over an increasingly diverse and sometimes divided caucus in a way that her Republican counterparts have been unable to do. Part of the reason for that, of course, is the fact that, unlike the GOP, Democrats have managed to avoid the internecine conflict that we’ve seen between “Tea Party” Republicans and more moderate members of the House GOP Caucus. Additionally, unlike their Republican counterparts, Democrats do not have the same level outside sources of funding and support that Republican candidates can turn to. This means that Democrats remain in some sense dependent on party organizations for monetary, fundraising, and other support in elections and therefore have more of an incentive to toe the party line while in Congress than Republicans do. Finally, for the moment at least Democrats are less likely to face primary challenges if they stray from ideological orthodoxy, although that seems to be changing to some extent with respect to the ongoing battles between mainstream Democrats and so-called “progressives.” All of this makes Pelosi’s job as party leader far easier than the situation that Speaker Ryan, and Speaker Boehner before him, faced in trying to corral an increasingly fractured House GOP Caucus.
It’s true that Republicans have used Pelosi as a rallying point in many of the recent Special Elections, and will likely do so as we get closer to November, but it seems rather obvious that this is an issue that is aimed more at motivating their own base than it is anything else. In many respects, Pelosi has taken the place of former President Obama and Hillary Clinton as the latest Republican enemy, and the prospect of her becoming Speaker of the House again that Republicans are most motivated by at the moment. To a large degree, the people who have these negative opinion about Pelosi are people who would not vote for a Democrat in any case. Turning Pelosi into an issue in the election, then, isn’t about changing anyone’s mind, it’s about keeping the GOP base angry and motivating them to go the polls.
Realistically speaking, it does not appear that Pelosi is actually in serious danger of losing her position as leader of the House Democratic Caucus. If Democrats do manage to win control of the House, it’s unlikely that anyone will step up to seriously challenge Pelosi or any of the other members of the leadership team. Instead, Democrats will want to focus on their agenda for the next two years as we approach the 2020 elections. Rocking the boat by challenging leadership after a big electoral victory is unlikely to be something any Democrat in the House is going to be interested in. Furthermore, it’s not at all clear who could rise up to challenge Pelosi for the top spot in the leadership. Neither Steny Hoyer nor James Clyburn will likely to be interested in mounting such a challenge, and it seems unlikely that someone like Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, who challenged Pelosi in 2016, will be able to mount the kind of challenge Ryan did in 2016 in the wake of the euphoria Democrats would be experiencing if they won back the House.
Pelosi’s future as party leader might be more precarious, of course, if Democrats fall short of winning back the House, which is certainly possible, or if they end up losing seats in November, which seems unlikely under current circumstances. If that happens, then Democrats will no doubt be very disappointed and perhaps even disheartened at the idea of facing down another two years at least in the minority with Trump in the White House. Under those conditions, it’s possible that there could be enough of a rebellion inside the House Democratic Caucus for new leadership to give momentum to an effort to oust the current leadership team. Even in that situation, though, it’s unclear who exactly would rise up to challenge Pelosi and her team and how they would be able to gather the support they’d need to push aside a group of leaders who have been in place since Pelosi took over as leader.