Rep. Dennis Cardoza has had a frosty relationship with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi after he voted against her for Speaker on Jan. 5. Cardoza no longer enjoys a seat at the leadership table, where he was able to voice the opinions of moderates.
Pelosi’s backers, meanwhile, point out that 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 messaging strategy and internal communications.
And a Democratic source pointed out that three Blue Dogs — Reps. John Barrow (Ga.), Jim Matheson (Utah) and Heath Shuler (N.C.) — were assigned to the Steering Committee this year. A Pelosi spokesman declined to comment for this article.
Cardoza said he had not spoken to Pelosi at all since the floor vote for Speaker, until last week when he ran into her at the New York City hotel where Blue Dogs had gathered for their annual issues conference.
“It was somewhat awkward,” he said. “We talked about the weather, I think.”
Given their once-close relationship, Cardoza’s vote against Pelosi for Speaker raised some eyebrows. He said he decided to swap votes with another California Democrat — Rep. Jim Costa — rather than support Shuler or another Democrat “to send a strong message.”
Shuler first challenged Pelosi for Minority Leader in November, securing 43 votes. He later waged another symbolic challenge to her during the January floor vote for Speaker. Of the 19 defections to Pelosi’s leadership, 11 called out Shuler’s name on the floor.
Deciding to buck Pelosi was not an easy call, Cardoza said, and was based on Pelosi’s response to the election, not the election results themselves.
“I hadn’t decided not to vote for her on Election Day,” he said. “It was how I saw the Caucus move after the election that caused me to reach the level of discontent to cast my vote the way I did.”
“I felt that there was no soul-searching about why it happened after the election,” he explained. “I felt like the Speaker — because so many of the moderates had been defeated — that she tacked and the Caucus tacked hard left. It was so unrepresentative of what the message was of the American people and of my district, that I couldn’t — in good conscience and good faith — any longer support her candidacy.”
But Cardoza said he’d been frustrated even before the elections because he felt the feedback he gave in leadership meetings was discarded.
“I believe very strongly that when you’re given that role, you speak the truth to power, and I said a lot of things in those meetings that weren’t necessarily popular or they weren’t groupthink,” he said.
For example, Cardoza said he “was very direct about how I felt like we weren’t effectively dealing with the job problem and the housing problem.”
Going forward, Cardoza, who is co-chairing the Blue Dogs’ political action committee this cycle, said he shared the concerns expressed by some of his fellow Blue Dogs who have said it could be tougher to win back the House with Pelosi in charge.