Majority Leader Steny Hoyer hasn’t spoken much about Caucus politics in the days since Democrats lost the House majority on Nov. 2. After all, he had a lot at stake: His position in the leadership lineup was vulnerable and some of his moderate allies were pressuring him to consider challenging Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the top Democratic leader job in the 112th Congress.
But when the Maryland Democrat finally opened up Wednesday evening, Hoyer defended Pelosi’s decision to stay on.
“I don’t think it was a mistake,” Hoyer said during an interview in his Capitol office. “I think Nancy Pelosi had a judgment to make as to whether she can continue being an effective leader of the Caucus.”
Pelosi was elected by her Caucus to the top leadership job Wednesday afternoon despite defections from 43 Members who preferred Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.), a leader of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition. Hoyer — who has been behind Pelosi in the leadership pecking order ever since she beat him for Minority Whip in 2001 — was chosen by acclimation to serve as the No. 2 Democrat again in the next Congress.
“Obviously she went through an overwhelming vote today indicating that the overwhelming majority of those in the Caucus believes that she can be, and I think she can be as well,” Hoyer said. “She made a judgment she could be, talked to a lot of Members, and I think she can.”
Asked about why he did not challenge Pelosi for Minority Leader this time — even though some moderates in his Caucus said he was the better choice, Hoyer said, “I indicated before the election that I was not going to run against Speaker Pelosi, and I indicated that after the election.”
Hoyer had said before Pelosi decided to make the race that he wanted the job, but only if she didn’t.
“So when she decided to run for Leader, I indicated that I would ask the Members whether I could run for Whip, and then did,” Hoyer said.
Hoyer’s bid for Whip didn’t come easily, however. Until Friday, Hoyer had been locked in a competitive race for the job with current Majority Whip James Clyburn. Pelosi was able to broker a deal to end the contest by making Clyburn Assistant Leader, a new third-ranking leadership post.
Hoyer made clear during the interview that he harbored no animosity toward Clyburn or Shuler, describing both men as close friends. Hoyer described Shuler’s speech to the Caucus during Wednesday’s leadership elections as “very unifying” and “very positive,” saying that he pointed “out that we needed to have a big tent, we needed to have all corners of the tent represented.”
“He has a perspective and he represents his district,” Hoyer said. “That’s what he ought to do.”
Hoyer, who has a strong allegiance to the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, said he agreed with Shuler’s comments calling for respect for differing views but downplayed the idea that Democrats were divided.
“Will there be differences within our Caucus? Yes, we have a very broad-based party,” he said. “I think that’s our strength, not our weakness.”
Asked why House Democrats suffered their worst defeat in generations, Hoyer said “because the economic decline was so steep” and there was “a sense in the country” that Democrats failed to create enough jobs. Hoyer also blamed Senate Republicans for blocking legislation in that chamber, which he said “made it very difficult to get much of what [Democrats] wanted to do for jobs through” and led to voter frustration.
“Did we make some mistakes? I think there was a perception by some, by a significant number, that we weren’t focused on jobs,” Hoyer said, noting that Democrats did enact the stimulus law shortly after President Barack Obama took office.
“The public got the impression that we weren’t dealing with jobs and the economy. In fact we were.”
The Maryland Democrat, who became Majority Leader when Democrats won back the House in 2006, said last year’s contentious health care debate overshadowed Democrats’ efforts on the jobs front.
With Republicans set to take control of the House in January, Hoyer said Democrats are “prepared to reach common ground,” particularly if Speaker-designate John Boehner (Ohio) and his leadership team make good on their campaign promises to fix the economy and restore fiscal discipline.
“We hope that they will do what they said they were going to do and themselves try to make sure that our economy is moving and we have job growth. But that also — in that process — to reach fiscal balance,” Hoyer said.
Hoyer said he expected to be able to find Republicans to partner with, noting that he’d worked with Republicans in the past on legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Help America Vote Act, and on revisions of a federal wiretapping law. Hoyer often used to remark on his long-standing friendship with former Minority Whip Roy Blunt, with whom he would meet regularly.
“There are a number of Republicans with whom I’ve worked, and my view is the American public expects us to try to seek common ground to make progress, and I think they’re right on that. And to the extent we can do that, I want to do that.”
Going forward, Hoyer said Democrats “need to renew our focus on jobs, renew our focus on economic growth.” In the coming weeks, he said he would be “talking a lot” about Democrats’ “Make It in America” initiative and that he would be working closely on that endeavor with the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and organized labor “to reach common ground.”
“Growing jobs and growing the economy and reaching fiscal balance, I don’t think that’s left, center or middle. I think it’s common sense, and I think that that is the Democratic agenda, so I don’t perceive it as moving left or right. It is what our party has been all about and what it needs to be all about.”