House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is facing her last days as majority leader under increasing fire from fellow Democrats, growing numbers of whom do not want her to lead them in the minority under Republicans. If they succeed, it will be a brutal end for a politician some have called the most powerful House speaker of modern times. Pelosi was known for keeping a tight lid on rebellious factions in the left and right of her party, even as she developed a skill for co-opting members into passing difficult legislation such as Obamacare.
Pelosi announced Friday that she’s running for minority leader in the new Congress. Although there are signs that her election still may hold, a movement by Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina and other members of the fiscally conservative blue dogs to block her ascent has picked up support from some liberals and even a handful of longtime Pelosi allies, according to Fox News.
Blue dogs faced an especially tough election this year, and many had to make their opposition to Pelosi the centerpiece of their campaigns. Liberals, meanwhile, think Pelosi gave up too much in pushing for President Barack Obama’s key pieces of legislation, even though such deals were necessary for the bills to pass.
At least 15 Democrats have said publicly that they have lost faith in Pelosi’s ability to lead. About two dozen more are indicating the same thing privately, while others haven’t taken sides, according to Fox.
Liberal Reps. Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio sent a letter to colleagues asking them to support a plan to forestall leadership elections until December. That’s a major slap to Pelosi. It’s seen as an effort to give the anti-Pelosi forces time to coalesce. Democratic leaders plan to go forward with the leadership contests Nov. 17, according to sources familiar with a Wednesday afternoon conference call.
"Elections matter, and the messages they send matter," Kaptur told Politico Wednesday — though she declined to say whether she would vote for or against Pelosi.
Fellow Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, a longtime Pelosi ally and protege of former Pelosi confidant Rep. John P. Murtha, told the Youngstown Business Journal that he's not sure how long he needs to be loyal to the outgoing speaker.
"We had some really good, substantive things to talk about that we didn't talk about and there's plenty of blame to go around. She's obviously in charge so she needs to take the brunt of the responsibility for it," he said. "I was brought up to be loyal to people who helped you and I want to be — but at the expense of what? I think we have to sit down as a Democratic Caucus in D.C. and ask what direction are we going in."
The New York Times’ liberal editorial page has called for her ouster, while other Pelosi admirers such as Al Eisele, an editor at large for The Hill newspaper, have suggested that Pelosi should leave merely for strategic reasons.
“Even though Pelosi did a yeoman's job in helping President Obama push through his ambitious legislative agenda, including historic reforms of the healthcare system and the banking industry — and raised tons of money for fellow Democrats — she has to share some of the blame for the Democrats' catastrophic defeat," Eisele wrote recently.
“She also figures to be an albatross around their necks if she continues as leader.
"Not only will she serve as a political piñata for Republicans ready to spend millions of dollars in attack ads to portray her as the face of the Democratic Party and a female Che Guevara bent on making America look like Haight Ashbury, but she's certain to divide Democrats as well.”
And then there are junior members of the Democratic caucus, which will number at least 189 in the 112th Congress.
"It's just vital that we need new leadership," Rep. Larry Kissell, a first termer from North Carolina who won a second term last week, told The Wall Street Journal.
The biggest thing that Pelosi has going in her favor so far is that she has no opponent. The Democrats are in such disarray following their mammoth losses that no one has yet stepped forward to run against her, another reason she’s still the odds-on favorite to win the job.
But, as Fox point out, “It should come as no surprise that Pelosi is facing challenges to her authority: She got whacked with a 60-seat loss, $65 million in commercials featuring her in districts across the country, and a minimum two-year stretch in the minority.
“If she's able to stay atop the Democratic Caucus, she won't be in control of it — at least not the way she used to be. The drip-drip-drip of public defectors demonstrates that some of her troops no longer fear the repercussions of challenging her authority. And some clearly see political benefit in publicly thumbing their nose at the unpopular outgoing speaker.”
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