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Leadership Deal Fails to Allay Democratic Unrest

A deal Speaker Nancy Pelosi struck Friday to stave off a messy Caucus leadership fight appears to have done little to tamp down insurgency in her ranks and build a consensus for her bid to be Minority Leader.

The California Democrat insisted in a meeting Monday with her top lieutenants that any unhappiness with her leadership is not widely felt and called it “a minor irritant,” according to several sources with knowledge of the meeting.

But it appears as if a group of Democrats remains unhappy with Pelosi’s decision to stay on as leader and are determined to try to delay leadership elections scheduled for Wednesday, amend Caucus rules to limit her power or send a message by voting down bills in the lame-duck session.

Pelosi is all but certain to prevail in her quest to be Minority Leader — she faces a token challenge from Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.) — and is likely to beat back efforts to change party rules. Still, she has some housekeeping to do: she has yet to flesh out the role that will be played by Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) next year as Assistant Leader, the post she announced Friday to avert a divisive showdown between him and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) for Minority Whip. Many Democrats had been urging her to negotiate a deal between Clyburn and Hoyer so that both men could have a place in the hierarchy next year.

Pelosi’s office denied that she described unrest in her Caucus as an “irritant,” calling the accounts “totally false.” But several Democratic sources said Pelosi and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), who co-chairs the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, were dismissive of Members being uneasy in the wake of the party’s dramatic losses on Nov. 2.

“It was like the election didn’t happen,” one senior Democratic aide said. Pelosi “thinks everything is going to be hunky-dory.”

DeLauro, a top Pelosi ally, referred to the Speaker’s critics as “mischief makers,” the aide said. DeLauro said that because those lawmakers couldn’t block Pelosi from becoming Minority Leader, they are instead targeting her and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who co-chair the Steering and Policy Committee.

DeLauro and Miller have both stayed in their posts beyond term limits prescribed by Caucus rules, and some Democrats have talked about trying to force them out. A host of other potential rules aimed at reining in Pelosi’s power have also been contemplated by some Members, including making the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee an elected post.

But the senior aide said Pelosi’s plan is to hold leadership elections first — scheduled for Wednesday — and then deal with Caucus rules changes later, when she will be in a position to exact retribution against her defectors.

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