Pelosi Withstands Challenge to Remain House Democratic Leader

Caucus declares unity after tense votes

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi faced criticism from within her caucus after Election Day, but survived a challenge to her leadership post. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Democrats pledged unity Wednesday after Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi beat back a challenge for her job and two California representatives waged a neck-and-neck contest for vice chair of a caucus still rattled by sweeping loses on Election Day.

Pelosi defeated Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan 134-63 in a secret ballot that revealed the seven-term challenger had more support than the 12 public  endorsements he received from colleagues before the election.

Democrats who supported Pelosi brushed off the notion the veteran California Democrat failed to get one-third of the caucus’ support for her leadership.

Pelosi kept her focus on how Democrats would confront a Donald Trump administration.

“My heart is broken that we did not win the White House this time,” Pelosi said. “Where we can engage, we will. Where we need to oppose, we will.”

Pelosi said she felt empowered by the election result, despite the dozens of no votes.

“I, quite frankly, feel more liberated than I ever have after a vote after such a hard charging campaign,” Pelosi said.

Ryan, like other Democrats who did not openly support Pelosi, said he did not fear repercussion from the party leader.

“I don’t expect any retaliation,” Ryan said. "There will be a lot more people who are going to be standing up and speaking now, which I think is the main contribution I made to the caucus."

Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan speaks with the media after losing the race for Democratic leader to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan speaks with the media after losing the race for Democratic leader to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The caucus also chose a new vice chair. Rep. Linda T. Sanchez edged out fellow California Democrat Rep. Barbara Lee 98-96. The evening before that vote, an aide was overheard telling Lee she needed two more members to support her bid – the ultimate number of votes she lost by.

Democrats also re-elected Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer to his post and Assistant Leader James E. Clyburn to his leadership position. Rep. Joseph Crowley ran an uncontested race for chairman of the Democratic caucus for the 115th Congress.

The last time Pelosi faced a credible challenge was in 2010, when Democrats lost their majority by surrendering 63 seats. Former Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina garnered 43 votes for minority leader.

Ryan argued for a focused economic message and vowed to serve only one term as leader if Democrats fail to retake control of the chamber in 2018.

Hoyer also focused the his message on economic security and jobs.

"Millions more people voted for the agenda that this leadership group represents," Hoyer said, referring to Democrats winning the popular vote in the presidential election. "We will not shrink from making sure that the majority voice of the American people will be heard on the floor of the House and in every other forum in this country."

Hoyer brushed off the notion that a block of members voted against Pelosi, predicting that going forward, “the caucus is going to be united.”

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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