New York Times Calls On Democrats To Reject Pelosi

The New York Times has joined the mostly muted chorus calling on Democrats to select someone other than Nancy Pelosi as their new Minority Leader. In all likelihood, their call will go unheeded.

While Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi has announced her intention to seek the House Minority Leader’s position, there have been rumblings of dissent over her decision from some Democrats who believe that keeping the person who had presided over an historic  electoral defeat in power would be a mistake. Today, The New York Times’ editorial board joined that chorus and called on Democrats to select a new leader:

Nancy Pelosi has been an extremely effective speaker of the House for four years, shepherding hundreds of important bills toward passage and withstanding solid Republican opposition. Her work in passing health care reform and strong ethics oversight achieved what many thought was legislatively impossible. But is she really the best the Democrats can come up with as their leader as they slip into the minority?

Ms. Pelosi announced on Friday that she would seek the post of House minority leader. That job is not a good match for her abilities in maneuvering legislation and trading votes, since Democrats will no longer be passing bills in the House. What they need is what Ms. Pelosi has been unable to provide: a clear and convincing voice to help Americans understand that Democratic policies are not bankrupting the country, advancing socialism or destroying freedom.

If Ms. Pelosi had been a more persuasive communicator, she could have batted away the ludicrous caricature of her painted by Republicans across the country as some kind of fur-hatted commissar jamming her diktats down the public’s throat. Both Ms. Pelosi and Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, are inside players who seem to visibly shrink on camera when defending their policies, rarely connecting with the skeptical independent voters who raged so loudly on Tuesday.

The Times seems to be adopting the same argument that President Obama has over the last several days, that if only Democrats had been better at communicating why their programs were good, then they wouldn’t have suffered the losses they did on Tuesday.  As Ed Morrissey notes over at Hot Air, though, the Democrats can’t simply blame their losses on a failure to communicate:

Voters didn’t kick more than 60 Democrats out of the House because they missed their sales quotas.  They voted them out because Democrats promised moderation and fiscal prudence in 2006 and 2008 and then pushed a radical agenda and spent money wildly and to little effect.  Nancy Pelosi was the author of that deception, and if Democrats want to regain voter trust, it’s going to take something other than a new sales pitch with the same old leadership to do it.

Exactly. While the economy was certainly a primary motivating factor behind voter anger, it’s fairly clear that the failure of Democrats to effectively address those economic concerns and instead use their two years in control of the Legislative and Executive Branches pushing an agenda that bore little resemblance to the tone of the 2006 and 2008 campaigns was certainly one of the reasons that voters were so strongly motivated to toss them out of office. It’s not Pelosi’s failure to communicate that played a role in those loses, it’s her policy agenda.

Reaction on the left to the Times editorial has been interestingly mixed. Some bloggers, like Greg Sargent, argue that Pelosi, and by extension Reid, deserve to be kept in position so they can fight the GOP:

All this seems to badly miss what one of the most important roles of the new minority leader will be: To draw a very sharp line against GOP efforts to roll back Obama’s accomplishments.

This task could matter at least as much in the new minority leader as communications or presenting a new face for the party. And while Pelosi clearly has a negative and polarizing image, few would argue she hasn’t succeeded at building coalitions and maintaining unity at moments of extreme political stress — exactly what she’ll need to do if she’s going to hold the line against repeal efforts.

The key thing to understand is that we’re about to enter a period of brusing procedural wars — precisely the type of thing that Pelosi has already excelled at. Republicans are already discussing ways to starve the new health care law by, say, limiting funding to agencies that would implement portions of it or using spending bills to block federal insurance regulations they don’t like. The next minority leader will have to be ruthless in her willingness to use procedural tactics to combat this kind of stuff.

Sargent quotes AEI’s Norman Orenstein, who argues that the outcome of Tuesday’s elections isn’t relevant to whether or not Pelosi would be an effective minority leader:

Dismissed the idea that Dem losses last week are relevant, insisting that the new minority leader’s chief role will be to “hold the line against repeal and keep the troops together and use the limited weapons available to the minority to put the Republicans on the defensive.”

“She’s in a stronger position to do that than others,” Ornstein continued. “She showed in the last two years how strong she is as a strategist and she may very well be able to use that strategic capaity to exacerbate some of the schisms that Republicans already have. She understands at least as well as anyone else how to use the process.”

One counter-argument to this point is that Pelosi’s years as Minority Leader from 2002-2006 occurred under a Republican majority that was far less activist than the incoming regime is likely to be. The fact that Pelosi was able to outsmart Dennis Hastert on occasion doesn’t mean she’ll be able to do the same thing to John Boehner and the new GOP leadership.

Taylor Marsh makes another counter-argument:

Speaker Pelosi has been a formidable House advocate for Pres. Obama. The trouble is that advocacy of Obama’s health care preferences was a prime cause a historic Democratic defeat last Tuesday. Not only did 56% of Independents vote Republican, but 59% of seniors did too. Women basically split the vote with Republicans and in some states tilted Republican, which is why 19 state legislatures switched too. Under Pres. Obama, Pelosi, Reid and the DNC (aka OFA), the Republicans now control 26 legislatures at a time of redistricting and reapportionment, losing more seats in the House since Harry Truman.

There have been other rumblings against Pelosi in recent days. For example, a group of Democrats who were defeated last week have penned an open letter calling on their former colleagues to choose new leadership, and North Carolina Blue Dog Democrat Heath Shuler has announced that he will challenge Pelosi for the leadership position, and another top Blue Dog has called on Pelosi to step aside.

In the end, though, it seems unlikely that any challenge to Pelosi will be successful. The Blue Dogs are an even smaller part of the Democratic caucus than they were before the election, and Pelosi seems to have the support of most prominent House Democrats. Nonetheless, the arguments against keeping Nancy Pelosi at head of the Democratic Party in the House are well founded and it strikes me that Democrats are making a mistake here.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. john personna says:

    This is one of those things that, at first sight, I don’t care one way or the other. It’s not like I’m a Democrat.

    I guess at second sight it would further my goal, of pragmatism, to get a moderate in there.

  2. Pete says:

    Heath Shuler played QB for Old Rocky Top. He is a dunce. Should he prevail, the Reps. will roll him often and hard. Not a good thing for an effective foil to Rep. complacency. We need Pelosi.

  3. wr says:

    When the Republicans lose elections they double down and work twice as hard pushing their agenda. But Democrats are supposed to give up, retire their leaders, and appoint someone who’s essentially a Republican to lead them.

    No, thank you.

  4. An Interested Party says:

    It doesn’t matter who leads the Dems, either in the House or the Senate, as whoever holds those positions will automatically be painted as some kind of wild-eyed demonic socialist evil…

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  6. Michael says:

    For example, a group of Democrats who were defeated last week have penned an open letter calling on their former colleagues to choose new leadership

    Which Democrats? How many? Where they really all defeated in last week’s election?