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Pelosi Finds Her Footing as Democrats’ Attack Dog

Tom Williams/Roll Call
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has spent recent weeks trying to re-establish herself as the Democrats’ leading messenger.

During last month’s debate on the Republicans’ continuing resolution, which cut or zeroed out funding for numerous Democratic programs, Pelosi made several appearances on the floor, railing against the spending reductions and against amendments aimed at defunding the health care law.

Pelosi also spoke in favor of an amendment offered by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), a close ally, that would have forced public disclosure of foreign campaign contributors. The Minority Leader said the proposal would help stem the tide of “secret unlimited corporate spending and influence over our campaigns and our public policy debates.”

Pelosi also has recast her weekly press conferences to focus solely job creation.

“She got us as a Caucus to recognize the differences between being in the majority and the minority. ... To try to get across your point, you don’t get as many opportunities,” Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) said.

Still, not everyone is on board with Pelosi’s hard-line approach. Some moderates are concerned that she is catering too much to the party’s liberal base and that her approach will not help Democrats win back those independent voters that abandoned them in November. 

“She’s not speaking to the voters that walked away from us; she’s speaking to the base,” said a senior Democratic aide with ties to moderates. “Voters want bipartisanship. ... She’s still defending every aspect of the health care law when we know voters don’t like every aspect of the health care law.”

One former House Democratic leadership aide observed that Pelosi “cast a pretty big shadow at the time of the lame duck and the first couple weeks of the Republican majority.”

“So I think it was smart of her to step back,” the aide said, noting that Pelosi delegated some of the public messaging responsibilities, especially early in the session, to trusted allies such as Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.). 

Going forward, the former staffer said, Pelosi “needs to be very strategic on when she steps forward and stands in the spotlight.” 

But many who work closely with the Minority Leader don’t expect her to tone it down, either in public or behind the scenes. 

“She’s a hands-on person. That’s just her personality,” a Democratic leadership aide said. “That’s her leadership style and will continue to be her leadership style.”

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