Nancy Pelosi faces new resistance from Democrats
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By JONATHAN ALLEN & JOHN BRESNAHAN:http://www.politico.com
Nancy Pelosi is struggling to stand her ground as the effects of last week's Democratic debacle shift the political earth beneath her feet.
Pelosi announced Friday that she’s running for minority leader in the new Congress, and her election still seems on track. But a movement by conservative Blue Dogs to block her ascent has picked up support from some liberals and even a handful of longtime Pelosi allies, who question whether she is the best person to lead the battered party in the House.
At least 15 Democrats have said publicly that they have lost faith in her ability to lead — a number backed up by as many as two dozen more who are indicating the same thing privately, while others haven’t yet taken sides.
Liberal Reps. Peter DeFazio (Ore.) and Marcy Kaptur (Ohio) sent a letter to colleagues asking them to support a plan to forestall leadership elections until December — a clear effort to give the anti-Pelosi forces time to coalesce. Democratic leaders plan to go forward with the leadership contests Nov. 17, according to sources familiar with a Wednesday afternoon conference call.
"Elections matter, and the messages they send matter," Kaptur told POLITICO Wednesday — though she declined to say whether she would vote for or against Pelosi.
Fellow Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, a longtime Pelosi ally and protege of former Pelosi confidant Rep. John P. Murtha, told the Youngstown Business Journal that he's not sure how long he needs to be loyal to the outgoing speaker.
"We had some really good, substantive things to talk about that we didn't talk about and there's plenty of blame to go around. She's obviously in charge so she needs to take the brunt of the responsibility for it," he said. "I was brought up to be loyal to people who helped you and I want to be — but at the expense of what? I think we have to sit down as a Democratic Caucus in D.C. and ask what direction are we going in."
Even the New York Times' editorial page has called on Pelosi to step aside.
For all the Democratic griping — and fears that Pelosi could destroy Democratic electoral chances in 2012 — no one has yet stepped forward to run against her, another reason she’s still the odds-on favorite to win the job.
But it should come as no surprise that Pelosi is facing challenges to her authority: She got whacked with a 60-seat loss, $65 million in commercials featuring her in districts across the country, and a minimum two-year stretch in the minority.
If she's able to stay atop the Democratic Caucus, she won't be in control of it — at least not the way she used to be. The drip-drip-drip of public defectors demonstrates that some of her troops no longer fear the repercussions of challenging her authority. And some clearly see political benefit in publicly thumbing their nose at the unpopular outgoing speaker.
But on the Wednesday conference call, Pelosi asked her colleagues whether there was any sense in delaying the votes – as suggested by DeFazio and Kaptur — and got a uniform response that there is no reason to postpone them, according to one source who noted it’s in the interests of the current leadership team to move fast.
“Everyone believes the longer some of these things go on, the worse for them,” the source said.
Pelosi's allies say the logic behind her decision to stick around is simple: She's the only living person to have led House Democrats from the desert to the promised land once before.
"This is somebody who knows how to do it, who has the energy the stamina and the wherewithal to keep it going," said former Rep. Marty Russo, a partner at the lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates who is a longtime Pelosi confidant. "If there's anyone who can put it all back together again, it's her and she's willing to do which I think is terrific."
But the most powerful speaker in modern times -- once the most galvanizing figure in her caucus -- is on the verge of becoming a severely weakened minority leader.
Her loss of command means that incoming Speaker John Boehner will have a rich target of opportunity for wooing a bloc of disgruntled Democrats who may want to send a message on everything from taxes to spending to energy.
"What I would be doing right now is I would be calling each one of the surviving Blue Dogs and saying what’s your idea, what’s the direction that you want to take the country in the Congress," former Rep. Charles Stenholm, a co-founder of the Blue Dog Coalition, said of the strategy he'd pursue if he was still representing his West Texas district. "See if there’s 10 of them or 15 or 20 of them. Put them together and see John Boehner and the Republican leadership … see if you can’t put together a compromise."
The shocker – and the true point of contention in Democratic ranks according to some party insiders – is that Pelosi is not ceding any power. She already claims to have the votes to keep the job of Democratic leader -- leaving top lieutenants Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.) to engage in a caucus-splitting battle for the No. 2 job of minority whip.
But her public outreach on the matter suggests she's not entirely sure of her footing.
Pelosi wrote an op-ed in Wednesday's edition of USA Today making the case for her continued leadership.
"President Obama and this Congress were job creators from Day One, saving the country from the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression. The Recovery Act created or saved more than 3 million jobs, and America is moving forward. October marks the 10th straight month of private sector job growth," Pelosi wrote. "But much more needs to be done."
Heading into next week’s lame duck session and leadership elections, there’s plenty of unease inside the Democratic caucus -- and not just from those who have said openly that they can't support her for minority leader.
"I personally like the speaker and think she is an extremely smart and proven leader. She gets an unfair and bad rap. That said, her remaining in a leadership position will not help us accomplish any of our policy goals and will certainly not help us win elections in 2012," a House Democrat who won re-election in a tight race told POLITICO.
But even as many political strategists point out that Democrats will have to recapture the middle to someday return to the majority, Pelosi has demonstrated the most concern for her left flank -- her base of votes within the caucus -- since last week's electoral debacle.
She's hoping to schedule a vote on the DREAM Act -- a priority of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and progressives -- the same week as the leadership elections.
And rather than showing contrition or humility, she's issued a call to arms.
"Our work is far from finished," she told her colleagues in a letter extolling the virtues of an agenda just rejected at the polls. "[The] role of Democrats in the 112th Congress will change, but our commitment to serving the American people will not. We have no intention of allowing our great achievements to be rolled back."
It's a great message for winning a leadership election in a diminished and patently more liberal caucus, but voters clearly didn't see eye-to-eye with Pelosi on what should be counted as an accomplishment.
If there is going to be a Pelosi resurrection, she will soon have to bind up the wounds of the Democratic Caucus, sharpen divisions between the parties, raise money from the minority position and recruit candidates in the shadow of political devastation are much greater challenges.
Some say she's no longer the person to do that.
"I think and I guess I hope that she’s going to reconsider that decision before votes are taken," Stenholm said. "When you get a shellacking like we took, it’s time to sit back and take a look at a new direction and new leadership. ... I don’t mean this disrespectfully for her but all of her legislative success didn’t translate into things good for the country."
Former House Majority Whip Bill Gray (D-Pa.) suggested the current discussion about the direction of the party is more important than who is the head of the caucus.
"The question is: What direction do the members of the Democratic Caucus want to go? Do they want to go more to the left or more to the middle?" Gray said.
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