Nancy Pelosi still has some work to do to gain back the confidence of her entire Caucus.
Nineteen Democrats, including two members of the California delegation, registered public protest votes against her leadership Wednesday by supporting another Member for Speaker. Overall, 173 Democrats supported Pelosi as House leader, while all 241 Republicans in the new majority backed Rep. John Boehner (Ohio).
The Pelosi defections highlight the work the California Democrat still must do to bring her diverse Caucus together in the wake of the Nov. 2 elections that cost her party House control. Many moderates remain unhappy with her decision to run for Minority Leader in the 112th Congress, thinking it was time for a shake-up at the top. In November, Pelosi beat back what was largely a symbolic challenge from Rep. Heath Shuler for the top Democratic job. Shuler, a leading Blue Dog Democrat from North Carolina, challenged Pelosi again Wednesday, securing 11 votes including his own. He got the backing of Reps. Jason Altmire (Pa.), Dan Boren (Okla.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Tim Holden (Pa.), Larry Kissell (N.C.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Mike Michaud (Maine) and Mike Ross (Ark.).
“This is still a reflection of what happened in November, and then, obviously, her decision to run for Minority Leader,” Shuler said following the vote.
Members who defected against Pelosi on Wednesday will judge her “based upon her performance going forward and how she can work with the moderates within the Caucus,” Shuler said.
“The proof will be based upon performance,” he said.
Should Pelosi move to the center, Shuler said he thinks some of those Democrats who lost in 2010 might have a chance at retaking their seats in two years.
Rep. Peter Welch, who voted for Pelosi, said Members who opposed her did so out of “self-preservation.”
“Some Members who did that vote came from districts where Pelosi was the victim on the receiving end of millions of dollars of anti-Pelosi materials,” the Vermont Democrat said.
Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.), a Pelosi ally, agreed, saying some Members felt they had to vote the way they did because of the conservative leanings of their districts. On a personal level, Larson said, “Pelosi has such strong support and love and affection within the Caucus, there’s no problem.”
For the most part, Pelosi sat stoically in the chamber as Member after Member announced their choice for Speaker. But at several points, she appeared surprised by the names that were called, including when fellow California Democratic Rep. Dennis Cardoza announced his support for Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.). (Costa returned the favor later and announced his support for Cardoza.)
Another apparent surprise came when Rep. Kurt Schrader announced his vote for Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). Hoyer and Pelosi, sitting next to each other, appeared to be caught off guard.
The Oregon Democrat, who said he did not tell Hoyer beforehand how he planned to vote, said Democrats need a new leader; he said Hoyer is a respected Member who can work well with both political parties.
“Most great leaders step down after their troops get massacred. That didn’t happen,” Schrader said. “I think someone has to take responsibility for that. At the end of the day, regardless of how you feel about the Speaker, she was the symbol.”
Schrader said that by continuing the same leadership, “my ‘Joe Six-packs’ back home” feel like Democrats aren’t listening.
Pelosi has long enjoyed the support of her Caucus, even among its moderates. In fact, none had defected during previous Speaker tallies except former Mississippi Rep. Gene Taylor, who in 2003 and 2005 voted for the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) instead. After Democrats won the majority in 2006, Taylor twice supported Pelosi for Speaker.
Pelosi suffered more defections Wednesday than embattled Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) did in 1997, when nine Republicans voted present or supported someone else.
Other Democratic protest votes came from Reps. Dan Lipinski (Ill.), who voted for Rep. Marcy Kaptur (Ohio); Rep. Ron Kind (Wis.), who voted for Blue Dog Jim Cooper (Tenn.); and Sanford Bishop (Ga.), who voted present. Rep. John Lewis won the backing of fellow Georgia Rep. John Barrow and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (Ariz.). Rep. Peter DeFazio (Ore.) did not vote.
Given that it was already a foregone conclusion that Boehner would be the new Speaker, Giffords said she decided to back Lewis. She described Lewis as a civil rights leader who has shown he can rise above partisanship.
“I wanted to cast my vote in favor of someone who I respect and someone who I have tremendous regard for,” said the Arizona Democrat, who this fall survived a tough re-election fight for a third term. “It’s a time right now where we’re a very polarized country, and John Lewis rises above political partisanship. And that’s why I voted for him.”
Several Democratic aides downplayed the anti-Pelosi votes, saying they weren’t surprised by the number. Pelosi’s office was not whipping the vote, although Rep. George Miller (Calif.) — her biggest loyalist — did make calls on her behalf, aides said.
Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) said Pelosi still has strong support in the Caucus.
“I think she feels confident and so do Caucus members,” Becerra said.
“Those 19 Democrats are united with us against Republican attempts to weaken the middle class, to side with special interests and to break their promises,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel said. “So — on the stuff that counts — we’re together.”
The New York Democrat added that he is “not focused on how 19 people voted in a ceremonial vote.”
“I am focused on making sure that we have a Democratic Speaker in 2014,” he said. “That’s where I’m keeping my eyes.”Kind
Jessica Brady contributed to this report.
Correction: Jan. 6, 2011
The article misstated that Rep. Ron Kind (Wis.) is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition. He is a member of the New Democrat Coalition.