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Moderates Unsure About Pelosi Keeping the Gavel

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Moderate Democrats believe they will have a stronger hand in negotiations with Speaker Nancy Pelosi if the party maintains the majority in the House next year, but it is unclear whether anyone would challenge her for the gavel.

Nancy Pelosi’s support among moderate Democrats appears to be eroding, with more than a handful refusing to commit to supporting her for Speaker next year.

The list includes Reps. Bobby Bright (Ala.), Jim Marshall (Ga.), Gene Taylor (Miss.) and Walt Minnick (Idaho), who recently declined to publicly support Pelosi for another two-year term. Roughly a half-dozen other moderate Democrats also demurred when asked whether they would vote to let Pelosi keep the gavel.

Moderates in tough races have been distancing themselves from the liberal Democratic leader in recent weeks, even running ads touting their independence from Pelosi and President Barack Obama. Pelosi has served as Speaker since 2007, and assuming Democrats retain the House on Nov. 2, is expected to stand for another two years in the job.

“I would prefer a conservative Democrat, a Blue Dog Democrat like myself,” said Bright, who is a freshman. “If that doesn’t happen, then I will vote for who I think will allow me to represent my constituents the best.”

Bright is among the moderates who are keeping their distance from leadership. He quipped during the August recess that Pelosi could get sick and die before the next Congress. He later said the comment was taken out of context. “I can foresee a scenario where we could team up with Republicans to get a more conservative Democrat” for Speaker, he said. “I can see that very easily if the Republicans are willing to work with us.”

When asked about Pelosi’s support among moderates, spokesman Nadeam Elshami would only say: “As the Speaker has said in the past, we will not yield one grain of sand this election and Democrats will be in the majority.”

If Democrats keep control of the chamber, they may have a much more narrow majority, and moderates think they will have more leverage to pressure Pelosi toward the middle. Although unlikely, moderates could team up with Republicans and create enough of a coalition to oppose Pelosi for Speaker and nominate someone else when the House reorganizes next year.

Vulnerable Members from conservative-leaning districts would rather “not have to answer the Pelosi question,” a former Blue Dog Coalition aide said.

Pelosi has long held a powerful grip on her Caucus, but her influence has taken a hit in recent months, particularly as Democratic prospects for November have worsened. Even so, no Democrat has talked about challenging her.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), who ran against Pelosi for Whip in 2001 when Democrats were still in the minority, has not shown any interest in a challenge, and Democrats close to him insist he would not do it.

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