In the wake of devastating losses for Democrats at the polls Nov. 2, outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi has continued to reward and rely upon her inner circle of confidantes, leading some critics to complain that a shake-up is in order.
It’s not often that you hear any House Democrat holding up Harry Reid, of all people, as a model.
But that’s what some House Democrats are doing privately as they grumble that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has avoided any significant Caucus shake-ups since Democrats suffered historic losses in the midterm elections.
“If you just look at the things that happened since she’s been [elected Minority] Leader, she hasn’t changed anyone around her,” one senior Democratic aide said. “She’s surrounded herself with people who are unflaggingly loyal but don’t have the same work ethic she does.”
On the other hand, the aide said Senate Majority Leader Reid appears to be trying to completely restructure his caucus, even though the Senate stayed in Democratic hands on Nov. 2. The Nevada Democrat has shaken up his staff, including by replacing his chief of staff, and publicly turned over policy and messaging coordination duties to the No. 3 Democrat, Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.). Reid asked Schumer, who serves as Conference vice chairman, to lead a newly reformulated Democratic Policy Committee — a role that gives him oversight of Caucus communications.
Pelosi, meanwhile, has sought to deflect any blame for the party’s losses away from her leadership — pointing instead to the almost 10 percent unemployment rate and a flood of outside money that influenced outcomes. The California Democrat, who has taken a lot of heat for deciding to stand as party leader in the minority next Congress, has argued that Democrats must communicate better with the public so voters understand their positions, but so far she has given no indication of what changes she plans to implement.
If anything, Pelosi has so far seemed to consolidate her hold on the Caucus, rewarding and protecting her inner circle.
Pelosi’s pick of Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.) to head the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ahead of Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) or Joe Crowley (N.Y.), both of whom raised far more money for the DCCC, was seen as one such play, aides said. Pelosi also has protected her longtime allies Reps. George Miller (Calif.) and Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), engineering their retention as the co-chairmen of the Steering and Policy Committee. Israel, Miller and DeLauro led Caucus efforts to retain Pelosi as Minority Leader next year.
“Nancy Pelosi has a small cadre of loyalists,” one Democratic lobbyist said. “She came to the dance with them, she’s going to go down with them and she’s never going to change that.”
Another senior Democratic aide agreed, arguing that there has been no noticeable adjustment to how Pelosi and her inner circle are operating. Pelosi hasn’t announced any staff changes since the midterms, nor is the Caucus adding any new faces to its leadership lineup. Pelosi will helm the Caucus, followed by Steny Hoyer (Md.) as Minority Whip, John Larson (Conn.) as Caucus chairman and Xavier Becerra (Calif.) as Caucus vice chairman. Rep. James Clyburn, now Majority Whip, will become Assistant Leader, a move that allows him to keep a prominent place in the hierarchy.
“She has not followed the lead of Harry Reid in terms of empowering other Members of the Caucus to oversee [the messaging] component,” the Democratic aide said. “Given some of her challenges with rebuilding her image ... she should take a look at how she can maybe bring in other Members to take on a chunk of this.”
But some Democrats suggest that while the Speaker didn’t act immediately to transform the Caucus after Nov. 2, she may still make some changes. She has scheduled a meeting today to discuss messaging issues with Members and consultants, and more meetings are planned to develop a new agenda with input across the Caucus, several aides said.
“In the coming months, the House Democrats will work to develop policies and a unified message that will represent the voices of our diverse Caucus, but most importantly, puts the interests of America’s working families first,” Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said.
But another senior Democratic aide questioned whether those sessions would produce any substantive changes, calling them a “waste of time.”
“The consultants who are getting called in tomorrow are the same old ones we have used before,” this aide said.
But a Pelosi ally insisted that the outgoing Speaker has been adjusting things in the wake of the midterms, noting that almost half of the members for the next Congress’ Steering and Policy Committee, which decides committee seats and helps direct the Caucus’ policy agenda, are new to the panel or in new positions on the panel.
“Traditionally, when Democrats were in the minority, the Steering and Policy Committee has had a much more enhanced role, and we expect this to occur this cycle even on a larger scale,” this Pelosi supporter said.
Wasserman Schultz’s consolation prize for being spurned again at the DCCC — and likely getting taken off the Appropriations Committee — is a vice chairmanship on Steering. Fiscally conservative Blue Dog Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas) was also named a vice chairman, and Rep. Jim Matheson (Utah) — who called for Pelosi to step aside as leader and whom Hoyer recently tapped to become a Chief Deputy Whip — will also serve on the committee. Pelosi also appointed 10 new Members to the panel, including four women, two African-Americans and a Blue Dog, according to the Pelosi ally.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.