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Pelosi’s Leadership Faces the Test

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes her way to the Cannon House Office Building for the House Democratic leadership elections on Wednesday.

Shuler said he doesn’t expect to win today and was not making calls to seek support. Rather, he explained that his bid is about “standing up for what you truly believe in.” The former NFL quarterback said he told Pelosi on Nov. 4 in a 35- to 40-minute phone conversation that she should not run again because it would hurt efforts to recruit candidates and win back moderate districts.

None of the other Democratic leadership races to be voted on today is expected to be contested. In fact, Pelosi made sure of that by creating a new No. 3 Assistant Leader post to allow a spot for Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.) in the minority lineup. In so doing, Pelosi averted a competitive race between the South Carolina lawmaker and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) for the Minority Whip post next year. The portfolio of Clyburn’s new position — which the Caucus must vote to create — was still being hashed out late Tuesday.

Rep. Dan Boren (Okla.) said he and fellow Blue Dog Rep. Larry Kissell (N.C.) would offer a slate of three or four changes to Caucus rules, including a proposal to make the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairmanship an elected position with an open nominating process.

Boren said it is important for Democratic leaders to have a more “centrist message.”

“One thing that the electorate told us is that we don’t want extremists of either party,” Boren said. “We want people who are going to work together, who are going to find bipartisan, common-sense solutions.”

Members are also considering a vote to enforce term limits against two top Pelosi allies, Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who have served for eight years as co-chairmen of the Steering and Policy Committee.

Reps. Peter DeFazio (Ore.) and Marcy Kaptur (Ohio) said they would try to offer a resolution as the beginning of the leadership meeting to delay the elections until December; they also said they would ask for a secret ballot.

DeFazio said he and Kaptur had garnered 19 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon on a letter asking leaders to push back the leadership elections until Democrats have had time to digest the election results.

Several Democrats acknowledged that some of the remarks from defeated lawmakers Tuesday were directly critical of Pelosi’s leadership. And some acknowledged that they made the case for injecting new blood into the leadership ranks. Pelosi and her allies — she has a strong majority supporting her — have argued that the economy and joblessness rate led to the Democratic losses earlier this month.

But Rep. Brad Ellsworth (Ind.), who was trounced in his bid to replace Sen. Evan Bayh (D), said Pelosi’s unpopularity was a factor in his race, judging by the advertising against him.

“They sure ought to consider that,” Ellsworth said. “When a team is doing badly, you look at replacing the coaches.”

The Caucus by acclamation Tuesday adopted a resolution offered by Rep. David Wu (Ore.) that allowed defeated Members to speak for five minutes or more. Wu said Democrats subsequently adopted a separate resolution offered by Kaptur to allow speaking time for all interested Democrats, with staff kicked out of the room. 

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