House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s allies are pushing back forcefully against criticism from leaders of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition that she has not done enough to reach out to them.
The California Democrat has never had close ties to the moderate group, but the relationship went into a deep freeze following the November midterm elections, which thinned the Blue Dogs’ ranks by roughly half.
Top Blue Dogs criticized Pelosi’s decision to stay on as Democratic leader, saying her leadership contributed to their colleagues’ losses and the subsequent GOP takeover. One group member, Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), challenged her for the Minority Leader post during Caucus elections in November, and most Blue Dogs refused to back Pelosi for Speaker on the floor last month.
Sources close to the group say there has been little, if any, ebb in Blue Dogs’ frustration with Pelosi.
Shuler on Monday said in an interview on MSNBC that there has “been really no communication whatsoever” between the Minority Leader and the Blue Dogs, who gathered in New York City this week for their annual issues conference.
“She’s supposed to be the leader of the Caucus,” said one Democratic lobbyist with ties to the group. “You’d think the leader would want to meet with all groups represented under the broad umbrella of the Caucus. That doesn’t seem to be the case.”
Pelosi’s fellow Californian Rep. Dennis Cardoza was among the Blue Dogs who opposed her for Speaker last month. During the 111th Congress, Cardoza served as an informal liaison between Democratic leadership and the Blue Dogs, giving him an entree to leadership meetings. But that position no longer exists in the 112th Congress.
Still, lawmakers and aides on Tuesday defended Pelosi, insisting she has been doing more to include moderate voices in her decision-making. She tapped a Blue Dog, Rep. Henry Cuellar, as a vice chairman of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, a role that gives the Texas Democrat a prominent stake in coordinating Democrats’ messaging strategy and internal communications. And a Democratic source pointed out that Pelosi added three Blue Dogs — Reps. John Barrow (Ga.), Jim Matheson (Utah) and Shuler — to the Steering Committee this year.
Over the most recent 10-day recess, which ended Tuesday, Pelosi spoke in person or over the phone with 15 of the group’s 26 members, the source said, noting that Pelosi’s staff also meets weekly with staff from the Blue Dog offices.
“She’s been reaching out all across the Caucus,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the other Steering and Policy Committee vice chairwoman. “There are a lot more people in leadership meetings now, a lot more different kinds of voices. We are spending a tremendous amount of time in planning meetings, communication, talking about our agenda, our message. I have seen a very diverse array of Members that previously — I don’t think — would have been at the table. So I think she’s making a significant effort.”
Pelosi’s top lieutenant, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, on Tuesday disputed Shuler’s claim and defended Pelosi’s efforts to reach out to Blue Dogs and moderates in the Caucus.
“I really don’t think his characterization of Nancy is correct in terms of reaching out,” Hoyer said on MSNBC Tuesday, adding that Pelosi meets “with Blue Dogs on a regular basis.”
One Democratic leadership staffer said of Shuler’s comments, “It’s clear who his target is and that she’s got to decide how she wants to handle it.”
But Democratic sources acknowledge that no formal meeting between Pelosi and the Blue Dog leaders has taken place this year. And spokesmen for Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) said neither Republican leaders has met formally with the Blue Dogs, either.
Pelosi does have a history of meeting with the Blue Dogs as circumstances arise. In June, she and the rest of her leadership team huddled with the Blue Dogs to try to quell a revolt stemming from their concerns that they were being asked to vote for a campaign finance bill that had drawn fire from the business community and was viewed as having slim chance of passing the Senate.
More recently, the Blue Dogs, a group that was founded in the aftermath of the 1994 GOP takeover, have shown they are still willing to break with their party leadership. Three Blue Dog leaders — Shuler, Mike Ross (Ark.) and Dan Boren (Okla.) — were among the five Democrats to vote Jan. 19 against their party’s lone proposal to modify Republicans’ health care repeal bill.
Still, Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said the Minority Leader “will work with all members of the Caucus” to create jobs, reduce the deficit and strengthen the middle class.
And a staffer with ties to another moderate group, the New Democrat Coalition, said that while Pelosi has not had a formal meeting with that group either, “the New Dems have always had a solid working relationship with Democratic leadership.”
“I think that will continue this Congress,” the staffer added.
Anna Palmer contributed to this report.