By Russell Berman and Michael O'Brien - 11/05/10 05:10 PM EDT
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is running for House
Democratic leader, rejecting calls from conservative party members that she
step down in the wake of devastating midterm election losses.
The Speaker announced her decision via Twitter and sent a letter to colleagues asking for their support.
The outgoing Speaker said she made her decision based on discussions with colleagues and “driven by the urgency of protecting health care reform, Wall Street reform, and Social Security and Medicare.”
The surprise move ends days of uncertainty about her future and sets up a potentially divisive battle between liberals and centrists in the House Democratic caucus. It could also spark a clash between her chief deputy, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) – a former Pelosi rival – and the majority whip, Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the only African American member of the party leadership in the House.
Several members of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition vowed to oppose her bid to remain as leader. Yet Pelosi is known as a master vote-counter who rarely if ever brought bills to the House floor without knowing she would win. Soon after her announcement, statements of support began flowing from senior Democrats and party liberals, who now make up the bulk of the smaller Democratic caucus.
Republicans, meanwhile, couldn't contain their excitement over Pelosi's decision to stick around. After having used the Speaker effectively against Democrats on the campaign trail, Republicans said they were eager to do the same in 2012.
The White House offered no opposition to Pelosi’s bid. “The White House does not comment or get involved in leadership elections,” spokesman Bill Burton said. “But as the president has said before, he appreciates the work of the Speaker and the entire House Democratic leadership team who have been great partners in moving the country forward. He looks forward to working with them in the years to come.”
Pelosi had been widely expected to step down after her party was blown out in a GOP wave that captured the House majority for Republicans.
But, earlier in the week, the Speaker signaled in interviews her desire to stay and began making calls to surviving Democratic members to gauge their support. Her move, which could have a domino effect on the Democratic leadership team, immediately threw into question the future of Hoyer, who had planned to run for minority leader if Pelosi stepped aside.
Aides to Hoyer said he would not challenge her. Within an hour of Pelosi’s announcement, Clyburn launched a bid to keep his post, which would be the No. 2 spot in the minority. Hoyer, meanwhile, signaled he would challenge Clyburn.
“In the days since the election, I have received an outpouring of support from Democratic colleagues who have told me that I should remain in our party’s leadership, so that our Caucus can hit the ground running with a strong, tested leadership team,” Hoyer said in a statement. “Over the next several days, I will continue to speak to my colleagues about serving our Caucus as Democratic whip, and I will announce a decision after I have consulted with them.”
A top aide to Hoyer said that, in the majority leader’s view, “Since [Pelosi] decided to stay, everybody bumps down one spot.”
Yet just as Clyburn pushed to keep his job, so too did Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.), a close Pelosi ally who announced his bid to retain his post within minutes of her decision.
Pelosi backed the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) over Hoyer in 2006, but she signaled she would stay out of a Hoyer-Clyburn matchup, at least for now. “The Speaker is focused on her race,” spokesman Nadeam Elshami said.
The future of Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), assistant to the Speaker and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was also up in the air on Friday.
Van Hollen confirmed earlier Friday he would not serve a third term as
DCCC chief. The Maryland congressman is “focused on providing support
and resources to our candidates in still-undecided races,” spokesman
Doug Thornell said. “As he has done for the last four years, Van Hollen
is going to fight to the very end for every single House Democrat.”
“Over the last couple of days he has been getting lots of inquiries about his future from his colleagues who are encouraging him to stay in the Democratic leadership, and appreciate his hard work under historically difficult political circumstances,” Thornell said.
A number of House liberals rallied around Pelosi. The Speaker and Clyburn each won the quick support of Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).
“I absolutely support her,” Lee told The Hill. “She’s proven she can lead.”
While Lee praised Hoyer, she said she was backing Clyburn, a CBC member who was
active in the civil rights movement.
“It’s important we have that kind of diversity in our Caucus.”
Pelosi's announcement came as battle lines had already begun to emerge over her possible bid. Liberal Democrats are mobilizing in support of Pelosi remaining at the head of the party in the 112th Congress, while some centrists said she should step aside.
"Democrats tend to be more kind to our leader when they have a loss," said Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the longest-serving member of the House, on Detroit's WJR Radio. "She can run and probably get elected. I think she has a good chance of doing that."
Though deeply unpopular with the broader public, Pelosi remains well-regarded in a caucus that will lean more liberal after the more conservative Blue Dog Coalition was decimated in the midterms.
Outside liberal groups are already organizing support for Pelosi. Americans United for Change launched an email campaign on Friday encouraging supporters to "send a personal note to Speaker Pelosi about how much you appreciate her leadership," and to "make sure she knows that we still support her."
The liberal website Daily Kos started a similar online petition.
“Democrats lost because they didn’t fight hard enough for popular progressive reforms in the last two years. The Democratic leader least culpable of doing that is Nancy Pelosi,” the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Adam Green, said in an interview before Pelosi’s announcement. “She’s the last person among Democratic Party leaders who should step down.”
After the Pelosi tweet, Green called her decision “the first bold move we've seen from Democrats since the election.”
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), the co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, also voiced support for Pelosi.
"She could be anything she wants to be," Woolsey told The San Francisco Chronicle. "I think she will evaluate and weigh what is best for the Democratic Party and what it is that she wants."
But for as far as liberals have gotten out in front of Pelosi's decision, centrists have been just as vocal about their opposition to the Speaker.
"I don't think it's likely that I would support her were she to run for minority leader," Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) said Thursday evening on Fox News. "I don't know who the other candidates are going to be, but if she is one of the candidates, I probably won't vote that way."
Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.), a conservative Democrat and another longtime critic of Pelosi, said he "cannot in good conscience" support her as minority leader, and would support a more conservative Democrat instead.
Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah), the co-chairman of the Blue Dog Democrats, have also said that Pelosi should step aside, joining the other incumbent Democrats and candidates who had said they would oppose Pelosi as Speaker during the closing weeks of the campaign. Other Democrats who said Friday they would vote against Pelosi included: Reps. Mike Ross (Ark.) and Larry Kissell (N.C.).
Mike Lillis and Sam Youngman contributed
This story was updated at 5:55 p.m.