When Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver walked into the room where his party held leadership elections Wednesday morning, he wasn’t sure who’d get his vote for the top Democratic post in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In the end, Cleaver voted to re-elect California Rep. Nancy Pelosi as House minority leader. She won, 134-63.
But Cleaver was very impressed by Tim Ryan, the Ohio representative who challenged Pelosi for the post.
Cleaver said Ryan “gave the speech of his life,” before the secret ballot.
“I told him later it was almost like he’d been to seminary, the way his voice rose and fell. He also hit on all the things members of the caucus were feeling and expressing. ... This wasn’t a rejection of Tim Ryan. It was a message: Hold on, change is coming.”
Cleaver had filed a motion earlier this month to delay the Democrats’ leadership election, a move that allowed time for Ryan to announce a longshot bid to topple Pelosi. Cleaver said at the time that Democrats needed to take time to ponder why they lost so badly on Nov. 8 and come up with a strategy for the future.
“I did it because I thought we needed a season of introspection,” he said.
Despite his admiration for Ryan and his belief in the need for change, Cleaver said he voted for Pelosi on Wednesday because he didn’t want to weaken the Democratic caucus.
“I realized that we have to strengthen her for these final two years as she moves into probably the most difficult time she’s had in caucus leadership,” Cleaver said. “We’d better pump her up, and if the election was close, it could be perceived that she’s weakened and it could hurt her negotiating power.”
But Cleaver said he hopes Democrats will heed Ryan, who has spoken about the need for Democrats to have more leaders from “flyover country.” The Democratic party will compromise its future if it concentrates only on big cities and on the coasts, he said.
“It would be a monumental mistake to ignore what Ryan said about flyover country,” Cleaver said.
“Tim is someone who is the future,” he added. “And he is going to be a leader.”