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Roll Call

Majority Lost for Lame Duck?

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Moderate Democrats, many of them defeated Nov. 2, have little reason to cooperate with Speaker Nancy Pelosi when they return for the lame-duck session of Congress.

It doesn’t look like Nancy Pelosi’s final weeks as Speaker will be about unity.

The California Democrat continues to eye votes in the lame-duck session on a host of liberal priorities, including immigration reform, gay rights, spending bills and taxing the wealthy, despite the Democrats’ overwhelming defeat Nov. 2, according to several senior Democratic aides. The idea has moderate Democrats exasperated and warning they could align with Republicans on bills and procedural items during the next few weeks.

A Democratic leadership aide cautioned that “no decisions have been made on any legislative items for the lame duck.” But several others said Pelosi has been talking behind the scenes about pushing a host of liberal agenda items before Democrats are relegated to the minority party in the House. Pelosi is running for Minority Leader in the 112th Congress.

“It is like she missed the memo that we lost the election,” one senior Democratic aide said of Pelosi’s lame-duck ambitions. “So far, no one in the Caucus has been able to focus on moving forward,” the aide added. “Her decision to stay has become a huge distraction and is damaging and dividing the Caucus. If she were really listening to her Members, she would be leaving.”

Rep. Jim Matheson, a co-chairman of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition who has called on Pelosi to step down from leadership, said the potentially big agenda and Pelosi’s decision to remain in leadership show that “people are in denial.”

“It’s just amazing to me,” the Utah Democrat said. Matheson added that he didn’t know how Pelosi would get support from lawmakers who just lost re-election in part because they had to take a number of unnecessary tough votes. “I don’t know how you do it. ... How many votes have we had to take in the House that have never moved in the Senate? And we’re still playing that game?”

Matheson said a potential Caucus vote on delaying leadership elections could be an opportunity for Members to send a message that they aren’t happy with Pelosi or her agenda.

Another moderate Democrat, who has come out publicly against Pelosi and is still hoping she will ultimately step aside, said Members have discussed voting down her lame-duck bills and siding with Republicans on procedural votes to express their displeasure at her decision to run for Minority Leader. A senior aide for a defeated Democrat predicted Pelosi will have to accept a stopgap spending bill and not much else.

The deal she reached late Friday to create an Assistant Leader post for Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.), clearing the way for Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) to become Minority Whip without a divisive vote, does not mean moderates are going to fall in line.

“It’s not going to change the overall problem of Nancy Pelosi is once again trying to, in a final swan song, shove through an agenda that isn’t going to get through the Senate,” the aide said.

Pelosi, meanwhile, still has tools at her disposal, including fear.

“Some of us are concerned about committee assignments,” said the lawmaker who has spoken out against Pelosi. “There are concerns about retribution.”

In particular, some Members are worried because Pelosi’s closest Caucus allies, Reps. George Miller (Calif.) and Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), are policy co-chairmen on the Steering Committee, which determines committee assignments, and are calling Members to line up support for Pelosi.

But Matheson said he’s not worried about threats of losing committee assignments. “If that type of activity went on, it would blow up the Caucus,” he said. “It would be disaster, and I think most people realize that. ... It would be Armageddon.”

Defeated lawmakers also may not want to cross the Speaker if they plan on running for re-election and want access to party campaign cash, or if they are headed to K Street and want to maintain a relationship with her.

Pelosi herself isn’t buying the argument that she bears responsibility for the Democratic defeat or that any of the party’s policies are to blame.

“We didn’t lose the election because of me,” she told NPR in an interview last week, pointing the finger at the nation’s 9.6 percent unemployment rate instead. And she said the overwhelming majority of her Caucus wants her back in the top job next year.

But Matheson took issue with Pelosi absolving herself of blame for the Democrats’ defeat.

“I think that you can talk to a lot of folks, including the 60-plus who lost their election, and I suspect you would find a different opinion,” he said.

The first controversial item she would have to whip could be the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship to hundreds of thousands of students and soldiers. That bill had been planned to hit the floor this week, but it was pulled from the agenda Friday afternoon after Pelosi and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus decided to take more time to whip it, according to a leadership aide.

A senior Democratic aide said there was a growing sense in leadership that it would be a “politically good move” for the House to hold a DREAM Act vote, even if the Senate fails to act.

“With the last remaining days of our majority, it sends a message to the Hispanic community that we are fully on their side and that we actually took important steps and votes that will help Hispanics,” the aide said.

Pelosi has also yet to concede that Democrats will need to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, not just the middle class. She is also still pushing to pass an omnibus spending bill for this fiscal year rather than a short-term continuing resolution, which would kick the annual spending bills to next year, when Republicans will be in charge of the House.

Pelosi has also mentioned the possibility of acting on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act banning workplace discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.

But several senior Democratic aides said leaders’ preoccupation with battles over the top spots — including her own efforts to shore up Caucus support for Minority Leader — was hindering the development to a cohesive legislative strategy for the lame-duck session.

“I don’t sense that there’s a real plan right now in place by the Caucus on how to cast some of these votes that may be tough,” one senior aide said. The aide predicted that the Democratic rank and file would pressure leaders to move quickly and adjourn for the year.

“For the most part, most Members are going to want to come back, take their votes and leave,” the aide said.

Kathleen Hunter contributed to this report.

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