House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was dealt a blow Tuesday when the California Democrat succumbed to pressure from the rank-and-file to delay leadership elections until Nov. 30.
At least one member, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, expressed interest in challenging Pelosi. But any candidate would face long odds defeating the veteran lawmaker, despite the Election Day losses for Democrats.
Pelosi had sought to hold elections for minority leader, minority whip, assistant leader and Democratic caucus chairman on Thursday. In a letter circulated last Friday, she said that decision came at the request of members who “expressed a strong desire to proceed with elections … in order to fully prepare forcefully for the lame-duck session.”
On Tuesday, Pelosi, who has led the Democratic caucus since 2002, told reporters after the party’s caucus meeting that she did not believe the late November election date was a sign of a repudiation of her leadership.
“We were going to go Nov. 30 and people said, ‘Why are you delaying the election?’” Pelosi said. “So then we said, ‘OK, we move it up until now.’”
But some members questioned that move leading to the decision to delay the elections. House Democrats have stopped short of calling for her replacement publicly or blaming the top leaders in the current Democratic caucus for last week’s election results that sent Donald Trump to the White House. The GOP also maintained control of both houses of Congress.
North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield said putting off the elections until after the Thanksgiving holiday will help Democrats evaluate the “shellacking” they received last Tuesday.
“We got an unexpected defeat and we’ve got to recalibrate and decide how we go forward,” Butterfield said. “It’s just like death. There are different stages of grief that you go through.”
Butterfield said the party needs to analyze the election results and draw lessons on what went wrong. Whether that means new faces in leadership remains to be seen, he said.
“The caucus is going to have to decide that,” Butterfield said. “That’s a member prerogative.”
In the weeks leading up to Election Day, Democrats in House leadership told Roll Call they had not discussed a strategy on how to deal with a potential Trump presidency, seemingly convinced that voters would not elect Trump to the Oval Office.
Some Democrats left open the possibility of not voting for Pelosi as minority leader should another candidate emerge, but they also praised her leadership.
In delaying elections, Democrats said they wanted time to discuss with leadership how the party and the caucus should proceed to get back Democratic voters who turned toward Trump.
Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego said if caucus leaders were elected before members had time to analyze why the party lost, constituents might construe that as “business as usual.”
A spokesman for Ryan, the Ohio Democrat, told Roll Call on Monday that he was open to the idea of running against Pelosi.
“[Ryan] watched many traditional Democrats leave our party and he is concerned that if changes aren’t made we will be in the political wilderness for many years to come,” Ryan spokesman Michael Zetts said in a statement.
After Tuesday’s caucus meeting, Ryan opted to focus on how the party could recalibrate to capture what many peg to be the forgotten voter in Middle America.
“Who is the leader that can go into those Southern states?” Ryan said. “Who is the leader that can go into the Midwestern states and begin to pull those voters back in our corner?”
When Ryan was asked if that leader could be him, he responded: “We’re all having a conversation.”
The move to delay leadership elections came one day after a host of members circulated a letter urging Pelosi to do so.
“Only by taking the time to find the hard truths can we formulate a comprehensive path forward, which could include the composition of our caucus leadership and the roles and responsibilities of each leadership position,” the letter read.
Also by Tuesday, as many as 50 Democratic women in Congress signed on to a letter encouraging Pelosi to stay on as leader.
“We believe that now, more than ever, our caucus and our country need your strategic, battle-tested leadership to guide us through the years ahead,” the women wrote.
Democrats needed 30 seats to claim the majority in the House but only turned over a net of six seats so far.
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer agreed that it was not a repudiation of leadership to delay the elections but instead a desire to talk about what happened, which he called “healthy.”
The Maryland Democrat also did not rule out discussing with rank-and-file members their frustration over a lack of leadership opportunities, including ranking memberships on committees.
“We have fresh faces and they ought to be listened to,” Hoyer said.