Pelosi plans to run for party’s top House job

But Democrats are divided over her future role

By Paul Kane and Perry Bacon
Washington Post / November 6, 2010

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

WASHINGTON — Rejecting demands that she relinquish power after her party’s losses in the midterm elections, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced yesterday that she will run for minority leader, potentially setting up an ideological battle inside the Democratic caucus.

“I am running for Dem leader,’’ Pelosi, of California, said in a post on her Twitter account. She said her decision was in part “driven by the urgency of creating jobs’’ and protecting this year’s health care and Wall Street overhauls.

Many Democrats had hoped Pelosi — a central figure in campaigns that allowed Republicans to capture at least 60 new seats and retake control of the House — would step aside. This would have cleared a path for Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, who has support from the Democrats’ diminished moderate-to-conservative ranks.

But Pelosi’s allies have been quietly approaching fellow Democrats, seeking support for her to continue as the party’s leader. After her announcement yesterday, Hoyer and Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina each signaled their interest in running for the No. 2 post.

Pelosi has no challenger at the moment, making her the clear favorite to win in a caucus that is more liberal after Tuesday’s losses. She needs only a simple majority to become minority leader. But frustration with her tough leadership style cuts across all ideological ranks of the caucus, and most insiders expect that she will face some opposition in the secret ballot likely to be held the week of Nov. 15.

Yesterday, Republicans were practically giddy at Pelosi’s announcement.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result,’’ said Ken Spain, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “Of course, if House Democrats are willing to sacrifice more of their members in 2012 for the glory of Nancy Pelosi, we are happy to oblige them.’’

Told of Pelosi’s decision during a roundtable with reporters, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele broke into applause.

“My breath is taken away by that announcement,’’ he said. “Nancy is one of the best at what she does from a political standpoint. She marshaled through one of the worst pieces of legislation in the history of this country. The voters soundly rejected that Tuesday night.’’

Liberal groups lined up behind Pelosi, arguing the Democrats should not view the outcome of the midterms as a sign that they should move to the center.

“After Tuesday’s elections, some corporate Democrats are taking the wrong lesson — saying that Democrats should be less progressive and more like the Republicans,’’ the liberal group said in a letter to its members. “And they’re pushing Speaker Pelosi to step down. This would be a terrible loss for progressives, and for the country.’’

Pelosi’s announcement came as a growing, but still small, number of Democrats said she should not continue as leader. “I’m a big fan of her and would support her choice if she wanted to be minority leader,’’ said Representative John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat. “But my perception of what the minority leader does is communications, and I don’t think that’s her skill set. If that’s the major role of the minority leader, I think Steny would be a better choice.’’

Representative Dan Boren of Oklahoma, one of the few remaining conservative Democrats after several dozen lost Tuesday, told Fox News he cannot “in good conscience support Pelosi’’ in a leadership election that has still not been scheduled. Representative Albio Sires of New Jersey, told CQ-Roll Call “we need some new direction, and I think the best way is for her to move on.’’

Representative Artur Davis of Alabama, a moderate Democrat who is leaving Congress after this year and wouldn’t vote in a leadership election, said the party would have difficulty recruiting strong candidates in districts it lost on Tuesday if she remains.

“Nancy Pelosi was a very effective speaker, but the results were decisive on Tuesday,’’ he said.

Representative Heath Shuler, Democrat of North Carolina, has also called for her to step down, as did Representative Jim Matheson, a moderate Utah Democrat.

Hoyer had said he would not challenge Pelosi. An hour after Pelosi’s announcement, Hoyer’s office said he would consider a run for minority whip. Clyburn, the majority whip and the highest ranking African-American ever in Congress, declared that he will also run for that post.