WASHINGTON — Nancy Pelosi was re-elected the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives on Wednesday — and by so doing, her party members sent a loud message to President Barack Obama: They expect her to stand up for liberal Democratic principles against a White House they fear is wobbly on them.
Pelosi, the speaker of the House for the past four years, easily survived a challenge from moderate Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina. The vote for the California lawmaker was 150-43.
Democrats no longer will control the House in the 112th Congress, which begins in January, but they re-elected the same team they have in the current Congress, though with different titles: Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland will be the minority whip, and whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina will assume a new position as assistant leader. John Larson of Connecticut will remain the caucus chairman.
As expected, Republicans on Wednesday chose John Boehner of Ohio as the speaker and Eric Cantor of Virginia as the majority leader; they’ve been the No. 1 and 2 GOP House leaders in the current Congress as well.
Pelosi’s election came amid unusual turmoil within Democratic ranks. After Republicans made her an object of scorn during the fall campaigns, moderate Democrats are unhappy that she represents a continuation of policies that helped the party lose at least 61 House seats Nov. 2 — with six more races still undecided — and six Senate seats.
On the other hand, Democratic liberals — who dominate the House caucus — are upset that the Obama White House compromised on the health care overhaul, the economic stimulus and global warming initiatives, and they also have a new concern. They want to extend Bush-era tax cuts only for individuals who earn less than $200,000 a year and families that make less than $250,000, a position that Obama firmly supported until recently, when the White House began sending mixed signals.
Lately the president and his aides have signaled that he’s willing to negotiate with Republicans on the question; it’s widely expected that Congress will approve some kind of temporary extension of the tax reductions next month for people at every income level.
Pelosi, her backers said, has shown repeatedly that she’s willing to fight for liberal views.
“We’re making sure the White House hears the message,” said Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif. “Republicans did not win this election. Democrats lost because their base stayed home,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio.
Kaptur and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., led an effort to delay the leadership election until Dec. 8, so that party members, as well as the White House, could take more time to reflect on the Nov. 2 election results. The effort failed by 129-68.
Shuler insisted that the message from Democratic moderates was “loud and clear.”
One of them, Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla., who lost his re-election bid, said of Pelosi: “She is the face that defeated us in the last election.”
Asked what message she’s gotten, Pelosi said, “The message we get from the American people is they want jobs.” Responding to her low approval ratings, she said, “How would your ratings be if $75 million was spent against you?”
The liberals’ problem is that they not only could lose clout at the White House, but they also could become all but invisible in the House. Democrats will have about 190 seats, their lowest total in 62 years, and House rules permit the majority party — soon to be Republicans — to dominate the chamber’s business.
In addition, the 43 Democrats who opposed Pelosi on Wednesday — an unusually big vote against an incumbent party leader — will be unlikely to back liberal legislation in the next Congress; if anything, they probably will add to Republican totals on many votes.
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