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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.