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Pelosi, Hoyer Reach for Power

Democratic Leaders Grasp for Influence as Positions Change in the Minority

Bill Clark/Roll Call
From right: Reps. Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn watch as Republicans take control of the 112th Congress on Wednesday.

A power struggle is brewing in the new House Democratic minority.

Nancy Pelosi wants to keep many of the responsibilities she held for the past four years as Speaker, while Steny Hoyer is grasping for the clout he once held as Majority Leader. Problem is: Pelosi is now the Minority Leader and Hoyer is Whip, and there’s far less authority to go around.

Most recently the two have been tangling over who should lead the Caucus’ floor strategy on motions to recommit, the minority’s most powerful legislative tool to block or delay legislation. Hoyer floated the idea of creating an intra-Caucus task force to help Members make better use of the maneuver. But Democratic aides insist that Pelosi will still be in charge.

The Californian has recently reclaimed the job of leading ranking member and communications meetings, a role Hoyer played in the past two Congresses. Hoyer’s allies, however, say that the Maryland Democrat will not just count votes in the 112th Congress, and he is planning to oversee Caucus floor operations just as he did while Majority Leader.

When Republicans were in the minority, the office of then-Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) handled floor tactics.

The question of who in leadership should write the motions to recommit is one of the first issues to divide Democrats in the minority. Liberals, Pelosi’s base of support, insist she is the right leader for the job, while fiscally conservative Blue Dogs, top Hoyer backers, say he is the better fit.

“I feel that the motion to recommit is going to be very important,” said Blue Dog Rep. Heath Shuler, who challenged Pelosi’s leadership twice in recent months. “And it has to be motions to recommit that are much more appealing to moderates than it is to other areas of our Caucus.”

The North Carolina Democrat received 11 votes during Wednesday’s floor vote for the Speakership against Pelosi. Overall, 19 Democrats defected against Pelosi in the public and largely ceremonial vote for the House gavel. Rep. John Boehner won the job with 241 votes to Pelosi’s 173.

Pelosi has been working to consolidate her power and build Caucus support since the Nov. 2 elections that cost Democrats the majority. She has held a series of meetings with soon-to-be ranking members on committees and their staff directors, and last week her chief of staff, John Lawrence, ran the regular staff directors meeting, which Hoyer’s office used to conduct in the 111th Congress, according to Democratic aides.

“That is clearly something the leader’s office is trying to regain absolute control over,” one senior Democratic aide said. Communications aides are also now being included in the meetings to coordinate policy and messaging.

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