Pelosi secure despite search for successor
Some in rank and file look to new generation
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has weathered yet another round of calls for her ouster, but fellow House Democrats are beginning to look beyond her tenure and cast about for a list of successors.
While her two top lieutenants — Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, 78, and James E. Clyburn, 76 — have been waiting in the wings for a decade, some rank-and-file Democrats are eyeing a new generation of leaders to succeed Mrs. Pelosi, 77.
For now, Democrats say, that timing is entirely up to Mrs. Pelosi.
“I am not a big fan of matricide,” said Rep. Raul M. Grijalva of Arizona, cochairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “I don’t believe we should be eating our own right now. Some people want to characterize Nancy as a millstone around the neck of the party and why we lost those elections. I don’t think that is accurate.”
Dissident voices rose last week after Democrats lost their fourth attempt this year to grab a Republican-held House seat in a special election.
Democrats had hoped anti-Trump sentiment and a massive infusion of liberal donors’ cash would win them one or two of the seats, albeit all in Republican-leaning districts. But they failed in all four, and Republican Party strategists said Mrs. Pelosi was a drag on the Democratic candidates.
Mrs. Pelosi, who has helmed the House Democrats since the end of 2002, delivered a fierce defense of her tenure last week, saying her legislative mastery and her spectacular fundraising make her “worth the trouble.”
“I think one of the standards that makes her highly appreciated in the Democratic caucus and across the country is how much she has done for others,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia.
“There are some critics around here who really haven’t done much at all for anybody else. For that reason, I would say a certain respect has to be shown for her commitment, which has been tireless,” he said.
“At some point, obviously, Democrats are going to have to talk about the next generation of leaders, and we can have that conversation, but I don’t think we have it in the context of ‘Off with her head because we lost a special election in Georgia,’” Mr. Connolly said.
Whatever anti-Pelosi fervor there was dissipated when it became clear that no one else was ready to take over.
In behind-the-scenes conversations, Democrats suggest that House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley of New York, Vice Chairwoman Linda T. Sanchez of California or Hakeem S. Jeffries of New York, a co-chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, could be in line for the job.
Others laughed at that list and said the party would be better off turning to a more seasoned hand such as Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland.
Still others said the party needs a progressive champion such as Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who serves as vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, or a firebrand like Rep. Cedric L. Richmond of Louisiana, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
But those lawmakers have signaled that they will remain loyal to Mrs. Pelosi, and Mr. Richmond said this week that the black caucus has her back.
“I think she has strong support within the CBC,” said Mr. Richmond, arguing that most Democrats are focused on stopping the health care bill that Republicans are trying to usher through Congress. “But it would be great to see the first African-American leader.”
Reps. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Kathleen M. Rice of New York have been among the most vocal supporters of a leadership change, but both have said they are not interested in running.
Mr. Moulton said this week that he believes lawmakers have a bigger appetite for change now than last year, when Mrs. Pelosi thwarted a challenge from Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio — retaining her post on a 134-63 vote.
Mr. Ryan has renewed his calls for a leadership rethink but said he is not interested in running against Mrs. Pelosi again.
“It is a continuing conversation, and what myself and Kathleen Rice and a few others have done is to provide a forum to have this discussion — a discussion that a lot of members want to have,” Mr. Moulton, Massachusetts Democrat, told The Washington Times.
“We have been approached by — I would say a surprised number of members of the caucus — in the past week saying we need to talk, we need to figure this out, because what we are doing clearly isn’t working,” he said.
Asked to name a possible successor to Mrs. Pelosi, Mr. Moulton smiled and walked away.
Meanwhile, Republicans from President Trump on down are giddy over the prospect of Mrs. Pelosi sticking around. They said they plan to make her central to their messaging in the midterm elections, just as they did in special election races.
Corry Bliss, executive director of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Republican leaders that spent $7 million in Georgia, said this week that his group will follow the same game plan for midterm elections next year.
“During the 2018 cycle, CLF will spend millions of dollars highlighting Nancy Pelosi’s toxic agenda and reminding voters across the country that Democratic candidates are nothing more than rubber stamps for her out-of-touch, liberal policies,” Mr. Bliss said in a memo.