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Roll Call

Pelosi's Decision Freezes Top Democrat Leadership

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
Pelosi, flanked by dozens of female Democrat lawmakers, announced her plans to stay on as minority leader, which all but shuts out new blood in the Democratic leadership.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced Wednesday she wants to stay on as the top House Democrat to ensure the continued advancement of the nation’s women, and she said the pleas of colleagues who wanted her to stay overcame the concerns of family to hang it up.

Pelosi was flanked Wednesday by dozens of current and newly elected female Democrats whom she called the “future of empowerment of women in America.”

The minority leader hosted the briefing just after she had announced her intention to keep her post in a closed Democratic Caucus meeting. Speaking after Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York introduced the newly elected Democratic lawmakers, Pelosi said, “I’ll stay on if Steve Israel stays on as chairman of the DCCC.”

Her colleagues erupted in applause, according to people in the room, and lawmakers exiting the meeting were quick to praise her decision.

But the call to serve for another two years in the minority thwarts the ambitions of her second-in-command and sometime rival, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.

It also freezes the current leadership in place, leaving three would-be leaders — Reps. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and John B. Larson of Connecticut — without an obvious place to move up.

Van Hollen, the ranking member of the Budget Committee and a former assistant to the speaker, said he was pleased. “I think it’s a great decision,” he said.

Asked about her plans, Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee who has been calling members for support over past months without saying what she would be running for, said only, “I’m going to continue to do what I’ve done from the first day I became a member of Congress, which is help Democrats win their elections.”

Hoyer and Assistant Minority Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina are both running to keep their own slots, their offices said.

In the Pelosi news conference, the questions about pent-up demand from a next generation of Democrats led to a testy confrontation between the minority leader and NBC reporter Luke Russert, who asked whether keeping the younger Democrats in the wings “hurts the party in the long term.”

The female lawmakers surrounding Pelosi instantly began booing and criticizing the question as, in the words of New York Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, “age discrimination.”

Pelosi, who said the question was “quite offensive, but you don’t realize it, I guess,” responded that reporters “always ask that question except to [Republican Sen.] Mitch McConnell,” who is 70.

And yet, the question of how to get new blood into the Democratic leadership team is one that rank-and-file members frequently mention.

Pelosi said her brother Tommy wasn’t “keen” on her staying, while her children were more encouraging.

The California Democrat declined to say what advice President Barack Obama had offered her, but said her House colleagues had repeatedly told her, “Don’t even think of leaving.”

Pelosi also mentioned a desire to help enact legislation to rein in campaign spending, which she said would help empower women by making politics more “civilized.”

Hoyer announced his bid for whip shortly after Pelosi’s press conference. In a letter to Democratic members, Hoyer said that colleagues had urged him to stay on as whip.

“They believe that those goals require an experienced team to lead us forward. That is why I am running for Democratic whip, and I look forward to serving with Leader Pelosi in the next Congress,” Hoyer wrote.

Clyburn announced his bid to stay on as assistant minority leader shortly after that, touting his experience as well as his ability to connect with the entire caucus.

“As a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, a former chair of the House Democratic Caucus and a former majority whip, I remain uniquely positioned to work with all seven internal caucuses of our Democratic Caucus. I have always sought to build bridges and to make sure all points of view are represented and all voices are heard at the Leadership table,” Clyburn wrote in a letter to Democratic lawmakers.

In staying on, Pelosi will revive speculation by Democrats about whether she is looking to build up a successor rather than eventually let Hoyer ascend to her spot atop the caucus.

Although Van Hollen and California Rep. Xavier Becerra — who is on his way to the caucus chairman position — have been named by insiders as Pelosi acolytes, the minority leader has showered praise on Israel in past weeks.

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