Whether They Like It Or Not, Democrats Seem Stuck With Nancy Pelosi

There are grumblings from within the Democratic caucus in the House that Nancy Pelosi may not be the best choice for Minority Leader. Unfortunately for Democrats, though, they don't seem to have a viable alternative at the moment.

As the leadership vote gets closer, there are signs that House Democrats are having second thoughts about keeping Nancy Pelosi at the top of the leadership team:

Nancy Pelosi is struggling to stand her ground as the effects of last week’s Democratic debacle shift the political earth beneath her feet.

Pelosi announced Friday that she’s running for minority leader in the new Congress, and her election still seems on track. But a movement by conservative Blue Dogs to block her ascent has picked up support from some liberals and even a handful of longtime Pelosi allies, who question whether she is the best person to lead the battered party in the House.

At least 15 Democrats have said publicly that they have lost faith in her ability to lead — a number backed up by as many as two dozen more who are indicating the same thing privately, while others haven’t yet taken sides.

Liberal Reps. Peter DeFazio (Ore.) and Marcy Kaptur (Ohio) sent a letter to colleagues asking them to support a plan to forestall leadership elections until December — a clear effort to give the anti-Pelosi forces time to coalesce. Democratic leaders plan to go forward with the leadership contests Nov. 17, according to sources familiar with a Wednesday afternoon conference call.

“Elections matter, and the messages they send matter,” Kaptur told POLITICO Wednesday — though she declined to say whether she would vote for or against Pelosi.

Fellow Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, a longtime Pelosi ally and protege of former Pelosi confidant Rep. John P. Murtha, told the Youngstown Business Journal that he’s not sure how long he needs to be loyal to the outgoing speaker.

“We had some really good, substantive things to talk about that we didn’t talk about and there’s plenty of blame to go around. She’s obviously in charge so she needs to take the brunt of the responsibility for it,” he said. “I was brought up to be loyal to people who helped you and I want to be — but at the expense of what? I think we have to sit down as a Democratic Caucus in D.C. and ask what direction are we going in.”

The odds against an “oust Pelosi” movement seem slim at the moment, though, especially since calls to postpone the leadership vote, which James Joyner wrote about yesterday, have apparently been rejected:

House Democrats will hold their leadership elections next Wednesday, according to sources briefed on an afternoon leadership conference call.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) asked her colleagues whether there was any sense in delaying the votes — as has been suggested by two liberal lawmakers — and got a uniform response to proceed, according to one source who noted it’s in the interests of the current leadership team to move fast.

There are, of course, several good arguments against keeping Pelosi in the top spot. The New York Times hit upon many of them in its editorial last week, many members are expressing them openly:

“I personally like the speaker and think she is an extremely smart and proven leader. She gets an unfair and bad rap. That said, her remaining in a leadership position will not help us accomplish any of our policy goals and will certainly not help us win elections in 2012,” a House Democrat who won re-election in a tight race told POLITICO.


If there is going to be a Pelosi resurrection, she will soon have to bind up the wounds of the Democratic Caucus, sharpen divisions between the parties, raise money from the minority position and recruit candidates in the shadow of political devastation are much greater challenges.

Some say she’s no longer the person to do that.

“I think and I guess I hope that she’s going to reconsider that decision before votes are taken,” Stenholm said. “When you get a shellacking like we took, it’s time to sit back and take a look at a new direction and new leadership. … I don’t mean this disrespectfully for her but all of her legislative success didn’t translate into things good for the country.”

The problem for the anti-Pelosi forces is that there is no clear alternative to the soon-to-be former Speaker at the moment. North Carolina Blue Dog Heath Shuler has made hints about running for the Minority Leader spot, but he clearly doesn’t have much support inside the Democratic caucus. The most logical choice for a challenger would be current Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who has ties to the Blue Dogs and is generally views as more moderate than Pelosi. Hoyer, however, has decided to run for the Minority Whip spot, a decision which essentially guaranteed that there would be no serious challengers to Pelosi.

It probably would be wise for Democrats to reconsider whether Nancy Pelosi is the best person to lead them out of the wilderness this time, but they really don’t have any alternative.

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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. Mithras says:

    She was a great Speaker. As minority leader, she certainly won’t roll over and play dead for the GOP the way both the Republicans and the Blue Dogs want. There is going to be a lot of crazy coming out of the House majority in the next two years and it’ll be good to have someone in leadership who is willing to call B.S. on it all.

  2. The picture with this article doesn’t look much like Pelosi.

  3. An Interested Party says:

    This all sounds a bit concern trollish…who would make a better leader for the Dems? Steny Hoyer? James Clyburn? Anyone that leads the Dems “out of the wilderness” will be painted as some wild-eyed socialist, so what difference does it make, except whether or not that person is effective…

  4. bandit says:

    ‘She was a great Speaker.’

    She was fantastic – 2 years after the D’s controlled all branches of gov’t she got bounced. Obviously she did a fantastic job. If she had done any better she’s have somehow managed to get bounced in ’08

  5. Stan says:

    She helped to get the Affordable Care Act passed. Thirty million more Americans will get medical insurance. The health of the country will improve. There will be no more disgraceful scenes of Americans lining up in superdomes to get free health care, and much less unnecessary suffering. This means something to me, even if it doesn’t mean much to what passes as America’s conservative party.

  6. ponce says:

    It was Karl Rove freakishly out of touch anti-Pelosi propaganda they allowed the Dems to keep the Senate.

    The wingnuts may hate Pelosi because she was so effective but the Dems love her.

  7. Pete says:

    I hope she wins. No better face for the hapless dems as they struggle to regain relevance. She is so polarizing she will cause so much discord among the dems that they will splinter into little groups of wild eyed tourette syndrome like statists running around braying about “Affordable Care Act,” global warming, and card check; all VERY affordable ideas hatched in their empty little minds. It will be entertaining, but kind sad.

  8. An Interested Party says:

    “No better face for the hapless dems as they struggle to regain relevance.”

    Umm, regain relevance? They do still hold the presidency and the Senate you know…as for splintering into little groups, the GOP should be quite careful, as they might face that problem…