With only hours before Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is set to announce whether she will stay on as the top House Democrat, members are buzzing about the rarefied circle privy to her thinking.
Over the weekend, she called Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland and Assistant Minority Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina. Hoyer was left with the impression that she was staying, although the call was not definitive, according to a source with knowledge of the call.
And the California Democrat has huddled with her top confidants, California Reps. George Miller and Anna G. Eshoo. Both were with her election night, and Miller was spotted leaving her office the day Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, delivered his fiscal cliff speech.
Pelosi has also spoken to Caucus Chairman John B. Larson of Connecticut, but she has not made calls beyond her innermost circle.
The lack of calls is the latest clue Democrats are devouring in the rumor-filled time since Election Day.
It’s not that Pelosi is in danger. “She doesn’t need to shore up her support,” said a former Democratic leadership aide, dismissing the importance of the issue.
But senior Democrats are wondering if such a tight lid on information is a sign of a leader who plans a return.
Flanked by almost 40 newly elected Democratic members-to-be, Pelosi sidestepped questions about her future at a Tuesday news conference, showering praise on her campaign committee chairman and celebrating modest gains on Election Day.
“They say a picture is worth a thousand words,” Pelosi said, “but the picture you see before you is worth millions of votes.”
Pelosi promised to answer questions about whether she would stay on as minority leader at a news conference Wednesday at 10 a.m. “I’ll see you back here tomorrow at 10 o’clock, for those of you who are interested,” Pelosi said at the end of the event.
But the tenor of the news conference fit with Pelosi’s campaign to put a positive face on the election results, which some Democrats have interpreted as a sign she will stay.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York — whom Pelosi introduced as the “gold standard of a member of Congress” — added his own optimistic take on the election results. “It says something about our unexpected pickups that you all had to unexpectedly use your wide angle lenses,” Israel said. He was referring to cameras trying to capture the more than 40 people on the shallow stage.
Israel said the results improved upon the results of the 2008 elections.
“Pete Sessions said that they would pick up 16 seats, these Democrats defeated 16 Republican incumbents. And that’s, by the way, better than the 14 that we defeated back in 2008, which was a watershed election,” Israel said. That year, Democrats increased the size of their majority from 235 members to 257 members.
Pelosi and Israel both touted the diversity of the caucus, as they have in the past.
“Together the diversity of our caucus celebrates the strength of our nation. This caucus is a picture of America,” Pelosi said.
However, both upped their praise of its place from the most diverse in U.S. history to the most diverse in the “history of civilization.”
“The Republican caucus, if you look at it, looks like a rerun of the show ‘Mad Men.’ Our caucus looks like America,” Israel said.
After outstanding races are called, Democrats will pick up seven or eight net seats, a modest gain compared to earlier expectations of taking back control of the House that Pelosi set with her slogan, “Drive for 25.”
Pelosi conceded, “We may not have the majority, we may not have the gavel, but we have unity,” and said House Democrats were ready to work with President Barack Obama.
The California Democrat offered effusive praise of Israel.
“When I asked him to take this responsibility to serve our country and our colleagues, I said to all of you that he is the gold standard of a member of Congress,” Pelosi said. “He knows the policy. He cares about the American people. And that drives him to do the politics, to increase our numbers, to pass legislation that takes us forward, to improve the lives of the American people.”