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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.


Speaker Nancy Pelosi enters today’s leadership elections at one of the weakest points of her career, forced to stare down a series of challenges to her stewardship of the Caucus and the structure she created. 

House Democrats are scheduled to gather at 10 a.m. to elect their leaders for the next Congress, one day after they spent hours locked away in an emotional, soul-searching Caucus meeting. The Member session was the first since Democrats lost the majority by a landslide on Nov. 2.

Pelosi is all but certain to win her colleagues’ approval today to serve as Minority Leader, but only after she fends off a token challenge by Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.), a leader of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition. She is also likely to prevail against attempts to undercut her influence: Two other moderates plan to push a series of rules changes limiting her power, and a pair of liberals will push to delay the Caucus elections altogether until December. 

But Pelosi’s leadership remains fragile; she has been forced to defend herself to a Caucus she has led for eight years. 

Tuesday’s marathon Caucus meeting — which featured both sadness and blame for the election outcome — started with speeches from Pelosi and other leaders appealing to move forward together. The outgoing Speaker told her rank and file that she came to them Tuesday with “a heavy heart,” said one source who was in the room, but did not — according to several sources — directly address today’s leadership elections or the criticism of her that has emerged. 

Rep. Allen Boyd (Fla.), a defeated moderate, trained fire directly at the top: “If we thought we could win the majority back by having the same faces in the leadership posts, we’re making a big mistake. 

“I don’t know how you recruit in these districts” if Pelosi stays Minority Leader, Boyd said. A few other defeated Democrats used Tuesday’s meeting to say they would likely not run to reclaim their seats if Pelosi remains in charge.

Not every Member was so pointed, however. Some Democrats defended Pelosi, while others used the Caucus to say goodbye. Rep. Robert Andrews, a strong Pelosi backer, said Tuesday’s discussions were “frank” and described defeated Members’ stories “really inspiring.”

“They understand when you have principles. You don’t always win, but you have principles,” the New Jersey lawmaker said. 

But Shuler said there are Members such as himself who believe Pelosi’s time has come.

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