Not finished yet: Pelosi will run for House Minority Leader

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 5, 2010 

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that she’d run for minority leader of the House of Representatives, despite misgivings by some Democratic centrists who regard her as a reason for the party’s Election Day disaster.

Pelosi has been calling colleagues since Tuesday, when the party lost about 60 seats. Friday she sent Democrats a letter telling them that she wants to remain their leader.

“Our work is far from finished,” she wrote, and added a note of defiance:

“We have no intention of allowing our great achievements to be rolled back. It is my hope that we can work in a bipartisan way to create jobs and strengthen the middle class.”

Some Democratic moderates were unhappy.

“I will not be supporting Speaker Pelosi’s bid to become minority leader. … It is time to move forward in a different direction,” said Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C.

Leading the minority would be an abrupt change for the 70-year-old Pelosi, a Californian who’s been the speaker of the House since January 2007. In the last 22 months she engineered major legislative victories on health care, financial regulation and economic stimulus, with virtually no help from Republicans.

Democrats so far have won 187 of the House’s 435 seats in the 112th Congress, which will convene in January, with nine races still undecided. They’ll start next year with their lowest House numbers in at least 62 years.

House Democrats will elect their leaders later this month.

Several centrist Democrats backed away from supporting Pelosi during the recent campaign, as their constituents in conservative congressional districts saw her as too eager to expand the role of government, an image harped on by Republicans and conservative media, which demonized Pelosi.

Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, said after the election that, given the historic Democratic losses, it’s “time to shake things up.”

McIntyre said Friday: “I will strongly support and vote for an alternative.”

Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., has said that with Pelosi remaining as leader, it would be difficult to recruit moderate Democrats in conservative districts, and that he's mulling a challenge to her.

However, moderates appear to lack enough votes to topple Pelosi; many of them went down to defeat Tuesday, leaving a House Democratic caucus that’s more liberal than the one Pelosi’s led the past four years. Few think that Pelosi, a master vote-counter, would run if she didn’t think she’d win.

Brendan Daly, her spokesman, said the speaker had been calling “lots” of colleagues, and “many of them have urged her to run.” Pelosi, with a strong liberal voting record, has a good base of support among the liberals who dominate the House Democratic caucus.

“The fact is, Nancy Pelosi is the single most effective member of Congress, period,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

Pelosi commands loyalty as a key architect of the party's 2006 comeback, when Democrats won control of both houses of Congress. She also gets credit for helping to steer President Barack Obama's agenda through the House, despite qualms among moderate-to-conservative Democrats and often their outright opposition.

However, she’ll face a difficult task in the next Congress, partly because she'd helm a party unsure of its direction.

One clue as to how far the caucus will inch toward the middle is likely to come shortly, as Reps. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., are expected to battle to become minority whip, the leader’s top lieutenant and vote-counter.

Clyburn, who's now the House Democrats’ highest-ranking black member as the third-ranking leader, is considered a liberal favorite, while Hoyer, who's now number two, has long courted moderates.

Democrats then face another hurdle: Because of House rules, the minority party has little influence on legislation.

Often the best way for the minority party to be heard is to court the C-SPAN audience by using the House floor to make speeches before and after the day’s main business. However, such efforts usually are coordinated with party leadership, and moderates are wary of too liberal a message.

Clyburn addressed the challenge Friday, saying, “While our defeat cannot entirely be attributed to a communications problem, I believe it was a significant factor.”

(Barbara Barrett contributed to this article.)

ON THE WEB

Pelosi's statement

Party divisions in the House

Unofficial roster of 112th Congress House members

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