Diversity Defines Pelosi’s Inner Circle

Posted November 12, 2003 at 4:40pm

Despite some favoritism toward home-state Members, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D) inner circle of advisers expands beyond California’s borders to include the most senior domestic policy experts in the Caucus.

Pelosi leans on nearly a dozen Members for key advice. But unlike her predecessor, Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.), the Minority Leader does not hold regularly scheduled sessions with her kitchen cabinet. Rather, she calls on them informally, when she needs them.

“It depends on the issues — she turns to different groups depending on what the issue happens to be,” said Rep. Robert Matsui (Calif.), an inner-circle ally whom Pelosi tapped to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“When Dick was the leader, every evening we were in session we’d meet at 5:30 [p.m.] and we’d have a 25- to 30-member team who would meet for an hour discussion,” he added.

A senior leadership aide said unlike Gephardt, Pelosi does most of her Member interaction on the floor, where she spends a tremendous amount of time. Pelosi also interacts with her advisers in her weekly leader lunches and in regular Steering and Policy Committee sessions.

In several cases, Pelosi tapped inner-circle Members for prominent posts within the Caucus — elevating their power status among the 205 Democrats.

In addition to Matsui at the DCCC, she has installed key advisers atop the Steering Committee and as head of the Democratic side of the Intelligence Committee.

Sources close to Pelosi say the leader keeps two separate (yet connected) inner circles: one based on her personal friendships and one based on the Caucus’ policy experts. Many of her advisers, however, fall into both categories.

Five Members of her inner circle hail from California, and nearly half are women. The seniority level ranges broadly from three terms to 18; many advisers are considered progressive Democrats, while a handful are considered moderates. Neither Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), nor Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) is in the elite circle.

“That group could not be pigeon-holed from an ideological point of view,” insisted Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), a member of Pelosi’s circle who has known the leader for more than 15 years.

“Her inner circle is defined in a number of ways,” added Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), another member of the circle. “Certainly, she has people she has had long-term friendships with, but then she’s also developed as part of her inner circle people who represent a wide variety of views within the Caucus.”

In her policy-based loop, for example, are centrist Reps. John Spratt (D-S.C.), the Assistant to the Leader, and Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), the ranking member at Armed Services.

By all accounts, Pelosi’s closest adviser is longtime friend and California colleague Rep. George Miller (D), who helped advance the Minority Leader’s ascension through the House Democratic hierarchy. Miller, ranking member on the Education and the Workforce Committee, is in both Pelosi’s personal and policy circles.

Miller said of Pelosi’s cabinet: “It’s a fairly disparate group. But one of the things we all have in common is a respect for her capabilities.”

Pelosi’s personal circle is marked by strong friendships with fellow female Members, from Lofgren and Schakowsky to Rep. Anna Eshoo (Calif.).

Crossing into both camps are Miller and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), whom Pelosi named co-chairmen of the Steering and Policy Committee; Appropriations ranking member David Obey (Wis.); senior defense appropriator Rep. John Murtha (Pa.); and Intelligence ranking member Jane Harman and Matsui, both Californians.

A Democratic leadership aide said with few exceptions — Spratt and Skelton — Pelosi’s inner circle comprises those Members who supported her candidacy for Minority Whip, the heated 2001 contest that pitted her against Hoyer. The aide called those advisers “very important pillars” of her leadership runs.

“With all of those people, she would walk over hot coals barefoot for them,” the staffer said.

Another senior Democratic House aide said Pelosi has to be close to Members who wield tremendous power legislatively because they help steer the party agenda and message.

Insiders say that one of the members of the inner circle who might be surprising to the outside world is Eshoo, who is right next to Miller in her proximity to Pelosi.

Miller said Pelosi’s inner circle is reflective of her leadership approach — which is to tap all the resources of the Caucus.

“You have an incredible group of people working and we’re all pulling the rope in the same direction,” he said. “She wanted to make all the stars in the constellation shine.”