By Mike Lillis and Russell Berman - 11/18/10 01:25 AM EST
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her top lieutenants won reelection as House Democratic leaders on Wednesday, beating back an uprising that exposed deep divisions within the party rank-and-file.
of the caucus voted overwhelmingly to make Pelosi (Calif.) minority
leader, brushing aside a challenge by Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.), a Blue
Dog who said Pelosi’s toxic public image is a liability to Democrats’
efforts to retake the House majority in 2012.
contentious closed-door elections that dragged on nearly for six hours,
the caucus also elected Reps. Steny Hoyer (Md.), James Clyburn (S.C.)
and John Larson (Conn.) to top leadership posts, meaning House
Democrats will be led by the same team that oversaw the loss of more
than 60 seats in the midterms.
The leadership slate won
reelection despite a push by more than a third of the caucus to delay
the vote until Dec. 8. Leaders of that effort said Democrats needed
more time to digest the historic election defeat and consider whether
they wanted to change leadership. By a vote of 129-68, the caucus
rejected the proposal to postpone the elections.
victory, Pelosi forcefully shot down the notion that, by remaining
leader, she was ignoring a message for change from the voters.
message we received from the American people was that they want a job —
they want jobs,” the Speaker said. “Nine-and-a-half percent
unemployment is a very tough screen to get through with any other
She also rejected the argument that her low approval ratings brought down Democrats in 2010.
let me put that in perspective,” Pelosi said. “How would your ratings
be if $75 million were spent against you?” she asked, referring to the
Republican campaign to vilify her in television ads.
point, both Larson and Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), the reelected vice
chairman of the caucus, stepped in to defend her and her support among
Democratic lawmakers. “They know her heart, and that was felt today,
the heartfelt feeling of this caucus behind this great Speaker,” Larson
Despite Wednesday’s victory, Pelosi’s internal battles
aren’t over. The caucus will debate on Thursday whether to adopt rule
changes sought by centrists Blue Dogs that would significantly rein in
her power as leader.
Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), who formally
nominated Pelosi during Wednesday’s proceedings, trumpeted Pelosi’s
fundraising prowess, noting she used most of the money to support other
members even as conservative groups were spending millions of dollars
“She wouldn’t spend it for herself because she
was spending it for us,” Doyle said, according to an aide in the room.
“How can we fold on her when she’s not folding on us?”
leaders were quick to criticize Democrats for reelecting Pelosi,
accusing the party of being tone-deaf to the message delivered by
voters Nov. 2.
Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman
Michael Steele issued a statement saying Democrats “chose to ignore the
elections” and empower leaders who will continue “the same reckless,
job-killing agenda that was just overwhelmingly rejected.”
said afterward he never expected to win the leadership contest but
simply wanted to remind Democratic leaders that centrists, despite
their diminished numbers, still deserve a “seat at the table.”
“It wasn’t about winning the race,” Shuler told reporters. “It was about having a voice in our caucus.”
with Reps. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), Larry Kissell (D-N.C.) and Jim Matheson
(D-Utah), who formally nominated Shuler for the post, Shuler said
“there was a lot of unrest in the room” surrounding the votes.
Matheson, Ross and Kissell all said they would remain Democrats, but support Shuler for Speaker on the House floor.
think the 68 votes is a substantial message, and I’m pleased with the
results,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), a leader of the effort, said,
referring to the final tally on delaying the elections.
Others, however, said the caucus’s actions reflected a more troubling disconnect between Democratic leaders and the electorate.
consider myself one of Nancy Pelosi’s closest friends in Congress. I
think we missed an opportunity today to send a signal to America that
we understand what happened in this past election,” said Rep. Bill
Pascrell (D-N.J.), who wanted the elections pushed back.
said he was not voting against the leadership as much as in favor of
more deliberations about the Democratic strategy and message, which he
“I think we put the proper pressure and a positive pressure on the Speaker,” he said.
Wednesday, the caucus elected Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the outgoing
chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), as
ranking member of the Budget Committee. Pelosi had appointed Van Hollen
as assistant to the Speaker in the 111th Congress, and her office said
he would remain in the leadership team next year as a liaison to the
The votes that Democrats delayed were for
several amendments to caucus rules that would, in essence, repeal the
leader’s ability to make unilateral appointments to some posts,
including the DCCC chairman.
Proposed by members of the Blue
Dogs, the changes are designed to decentralize power by allowing
lawmakers outside of the Speaker’s inner circle to vie for those
positions. Led by Matheson, those members want two additional
vice-chairman posts added to the leadership.
Those votes are now scheduled for Thursday.
Outside the caucus room, Pelosi supporters took shots at Shuler, questioning his qualifications for the leadership post.
accomplishments of the last two years have been achieved without
Heath’s vote,” Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) told reporters. “And now he wants
to be leader?”
Some senior Democrats said that all the hype —
not to mention controversy — over the leadership races is irrelevant
outside the Washington Beltway, where voters care more about policy
than intra-party popularity contests.
“Who the minority
leader is or isn’t — or who the whip is or isn’t — is very much a
Washington-insider issue,” Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the
House Financial Services Committee, said. “The general public cares
about public policy, not personality.”
Asked if Pelosi’s
abysmal approval ratings among independents pose a problem for the
party looking ahead to 2012, Frank said they don’t, “because she’s not
running for president.”
“You people are focused on this; the
voters aren’t,” he said, referring to the media. “The general public is
much more focused on substance.”
Frank asserted that Pelosi had “virtually nothing” to do with the poor election outcome for Democrats.
“Going forward,” he said, “we will be judged on what the public policies are.”
The first version of this article was posted at 11:42 a.m. and was last updated at 8:25 p.m.