An attempt by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) to delay Democratic leadership elections has provoked concern among some supporters of Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) that she may be maneuvering to block his ascent to the top Democratic slot.
“Hoyer’s office is really paranoid about it,” said a senior aide to another House Democrat.
The former Speaker has not indicated that she intends to give up the post of Democratic leader, and a Pelosi spokesman pushed back on the latest speculation about her rivalry with Hoyer. “That’s ridiculous,” Drew Hammill said. “Leader Pelosi is singularly focused on winning the election.”
And a source close to Hoyer said, “Members and leadership are focused on the Nov. 6 election. There is not concern about leadership elections, and any discussion of this is a distraction.”
Still, Pelosi’s move has reignited long-standing speculation that she will leave Congress after the elections. In 2010, after Democrats lost their House majority, Pelosi ignored calls by some Democrats to delay leadership elections. They were held two weeks after Election Day, and she retained her position as top House Democrat.
Adding fuel to the fire is widespread skepticism about the reason given for the possible delay of this year’s leadership elections until as late as December — that the intensity of the competition for Caucus vice chairman, which is as of now the only contested race, has distracted Democrats from focusing on Election Day.
“Can you quote me laughing?” said one Democratic strategist, who said the move signals that Pelosi “clearly isn’t closing any doors.”
The scenario some Democrats envision is that Pelosi could step down and back another senior Democrat vying with Hoyer for the top job. The names that come up most frequently include Chris Van Hollen (Md.); Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.), who is running for Caucus Chairman; Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.); or Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.), who is term-limited in his current role.
As first reported by Politico, Pelosi discussed moving the elections back as far as the first week of December during a conference call with Democratic leaders the week of Oct. 8.
Democrats may still hold their elections earlier, limiting the opportunity for post-election maneuvering. And Hoyer’s support in the Caucus remains a potentially insurmountable obstacle for any challenge to his ascension.
A leadership aide said discussions are focused on holding elections the week before Thanksgiving, the same week that House Republican leadership elections are scheduled.
Larson spokesman Ellis Brachman said the date of the elections is still up in the air. “We are looking at several options to see what will work best for the Caucus,” he said.
One complicating factor: the House Administration Committee is considering holding two new Member orientation sessions, one the week after the elections and the second the week after Thanksgiving. Generally speaking, a shorter campaign period is better for veterans, as challengers have less time to organize.
Whispers about Pelosi’s future are becoming louder, even as the California Democrat has kept up a frenetic fundraising schedule of behalf of the party.
Pelosi keeps her plans close to the chest, so much so that some aides have complained to peers about being unable to plan for whether they’ll have their current jobs a year from now.
But those who know her well doubt she would opt for a quick exit. Asked in July if Pelosi had indicated whether she was retiring, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), said, “That’s her business, but I get no indication of that at all.”
Others who have worked for Pelosi or know her well cite her long-running rivalry with Hoyer as the reason she would stay on, preferring to prepare a successor over the next months or years before retiring.
“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.”
Pelosi’s pitch to change the date of the leadership elections was a surprise, and if it signaled her intention to try to deny Hoyer’s elevation to the top job, it came well ahead of the timetable most had predicted.
Hoyer’s strong support in the Caucus was demonstrated in 2006. That year, after Democrats regained the House majority, Pelosi backed a bid by the late John Murtha (Pa.) to become Majority Leader. Hoyer trounced Murtha, and since then, Hoyer has worked to project his loyalty to Pelosi, presenting a united front with her on major issues.
“What Members say to me is they are pleased I have worked so closely with Nancy from the minute that the race between Murtha and myself was over to now,” Hoyer said in a recent interview.
Another factor is whether Van Hollen, a fellow Marylander and potential challenger, would be willing to take on Hoyer. Their close relationship would make that a difficult choice for Van Hollen, who previously served as assistant to the Speaker.