Facing an uphill battle to reclaim the House in November, many Democrats are speculating whether Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi might leave Congress after the elections and are wondering what sort of fallout the leadership structure would face if she did.
While the California lawmaker’s intentions are essentially unknowable — her top aides had no idea she would stay on in the wake of Republicans winning the House in 2010, when it was widely expected she would step down — people who know Pelosi well say it is unlikely she would opt for a quick exit.
In interviews with more than two dozen lawmakers, aides and lobbyists, some instead predict that Pelosi will stay in Congress to help set the stage for a successor, rather than allow Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) to simply move up the ranks to replace her.
“She’s worked so hard,” a Pelosi ally on K Street said. “I don’t think she would step out unless she felt she had someone as a replacement.”
It is not a consensus view. “Ridiculous,” said Nadeam Elshami, a Pelosi spokesman.
“I don’t believe that she’s the kind of person who would try [to] ordain a successor because she respects the Caucus’ decision-making and understands that you can’t impose a leader on a group of people like this,” said Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.), a top ally.
But it is a view held by many knowledgeable Democrats, none of whom were willing to say so on the record for fear of provoking the ire of both Pelosi and Hoyer.
Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen’s (Md.) name is mentioned most often as the protégé Pelosi might tap, followed by Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.), though Becerra’s relationship with Pelosi has cooled since he tacked to her left during the health care fight. Both men at one time served as Assistant to the Speaker under Pelosi.
There is little chance of a challenge to Hoyer should Pelosi retire right after the November elections, if simply because Hoyer currently has a lock on the Democratic Caucus.
“Who, Becerra? Larson? Van Hollen? Stop it,” a former Pelosi aide said, referring to potential Hoyer challengers, including current Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.).
Hoyer has also worked to project his loyalty to the California Democrat.
“I think if you asked every member of the Caucus, they would say that I have worked closely with Nancy and been supportive of Nancy,” he told reporters at a breakfast last week.
But it’s precisely because of Hoyer’s hold on the second-ranking position that some Democrats predict Pelosi won’t leave at the end of the 112th Congress.
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.