Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sent a dear colleague letter to House Democrats Friday suggesting the caucus wait until after Thanksgiving to hold its leadership elections for the next Congress.
The letter may seem strange coming four months in advance of the lame-duck session during which intraparty leadership elections would be held, but according to a Democratic leadership aide members had been inquiring about the timing of the caucus elections, so the letter was meant to clear the matter up.
It also served to remind members the election is a long way away and the caucus should focus on winning the midterms, the aide said.
Pelosi opened the letter noting Democrats are “poised for victory” in November and that if the elections were held today the party would win many new seats and take back the majority.
“This would mean more leadership positions, more committee assignments and a large freshman class,” she said.
“In that vein, I believe it is important that we follow the schedule for leadership elections that the Caucus set last cycle, allowing additional time for freshmen to get oriented,” Pelosi added. “My recommendation to the Caucus would be to set leadership elections sometime after Thanksgiving, at a date to be determined by the Caucus.“
Incoming freshmen get to vote in the leadership elections, while outgoing members do not. If Democrats retake the majority there will be a minimum of 45 freshmen making up at least a fifth of the caucus.
In 2016, Pelosi originally scheduled leadership elections for Nov. 17, just nine days after the Nov. 8 election. Amid pressure from the caucus she later delayed the elections to Nov. 30.
The 2018 general election is on Nov. 6. The first day the House is in session after Thanksgiving is Nov. 27. If following the model of the rescheduled 2016 leadership elections that would be the week to hold them, but there are certainly scenarios in which the caucus may want to delay voting until early December.
One such scenario is if Pelosi, who has said she plans to run for speaker if Democrats win the majority, conducted an initial whip check and found she was short of the 218 votes needed to be elected speaker on the floor in January.
While that wouldn’t impact her ability to win a caucus election, which only takes a simple majority, it would be unlikely Pelosi would move forward without knowing the outcome of a floor vote.
No one has announced plans to challenge Pelosi, but Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan is considering it. He ran against in her 2016 and lost, and there are no signs yet that outcome would be different this year, especially if Democrats win the majority.
But some in the caucus have already started preparing for a scenario in which Pelosi can’t shore up the votes. In that context, they have been discussing the possibility of House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer or Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn running as a “bridge” speaker who could serve briefly and help the caucus transition to next generation of leaders.
Any shake-up in the top rungs of leadership would create additional openings that would likely result in several competitive races.
The only guaranteed opening in leadership next year will be for Democratic Caucus chairman, since the current office holder, New York Rep. Joe Crowley, lost his primary. California Reps. Barbara Lee and Linda Sanchez have both expressed interest in that position. In 2016 Sanchez won the vice chairwoman position over Lee by two votes.