WASHINGTON – Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi faces a challenge to her job as frustrated House Democrats meet to select a new slate of leaders.
Pelosi is likely to be re-elected easily Wednesday despite disenchantment among some in the Democratic caucus she has led since 2002. Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan is challenging her for the job, arguing that newer lawmakers need a bigger voice in a caucus that’s been led for years by the same aging slate of leaders and committee chairmen.
Leadership elections were originally scheduled to be held before Thanksgiving but were delayed to give Democrats more time to discuss and process the election results and consider a path forward. Many are discouraged after losing the White House and making smaller than expected gains in both chambers of Congress.
“I believe we must do more than simply paper over the cracks,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona, one of a handful of House Democrats to endorse Ryan. “We can’t just say the right things — we must take concrete steps to move our party in the right direction.”
The 76-year-old Pelosi has been promising some changes to assuage concerns in her caucus, including adding a member of the freshmen class to her leadership team. But her proposals do little to ensure new blood at the very top or change the seniority system that has key committees led by lawmakers in their 80s at a moment when the party needs to be defending President Barack Obama’s health care law and other initiatives.
Nonetheless Pelosi projected confidence heading into the vote. Known for her vote-counting skills, the Californian asserted she had support of two-thirds of Democrats locked up.
“Leader Pelosi is honored to receive the overwhelming support of her colleagues,” said spokesman Drew Hammill. “That so many members are so enthusiastic and eager to take active roles in the caucus is music to her ears.”
Other top leadership posts are uncontested, with Steny Hoyer of Maryland expected to stay in the No. 2 job of whip, and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina in the No. 3 position of assistant leader. The position of conference chairman is term-limited, and Xavier Becerra of California is expected to be replaced by Joe Crowley of New York.
There is a contest for the position of conference vice chair between two California Democrats, Linda Sanchez and Barbara Lee. Either would become the first minority woman in leadership.
On the eve of the House leadership elections, 85-year-old Rep. Sander Levin, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said he will not seek re-election to the panel post, clearing the way for a younger lawmaker to move into the spot on the powerful committee. Becerra and Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts told House Democrats they are interested in the position.
Republicans are on track to hold at least 240 seats in the House next year. Democrats, who had high hopes of significant gains in the election, picked up just six seats on Election Day earlier this month and remain in the minority with 194 seats.