No. 2 Dem said House caucus needs 'more openness and inclusiveness'

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Thursday that “more openness and inclusiveness is necessary” in the House Democratic Caucus, a day after nearly one-quarter of rank-and-file lawmakers voted against Speaker Nancy Pelosi as party leader in the upcoming Congress.

Blue Dog Democrats who opposed Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) bid for reelection complained they didn’t have enough of a voice in the caucus, and Hoyer said their concerns must be heard.

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“I think that more openness and inclusiveness is necessary, and I think there’s been [more] of that than I think is given credit for, but I think more could be certainly very effective,” Hoyer told reporters at a briefing Thursday. The outgoing majority leader, who has strong ties to the conservative Blue Dogs, was elected unanimously as minority whip in leadership elections on Wednesday.

Hoyer praised Pelosi’s challenger, Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), for handling himself “very, very well” during the process, and he voiced sympathy for the Blue Dog members, whose ranks were decimated in the midterm elections. Pelosi defeated Shuler, 150-43, in the caucus vote.

“We will be working hard to make sure we reach consensus within our own caucus, and, very frankly, nobody expects unanimity within the Democratic Caucus that knows anything about the Democratic Party,” Hoyer said. “We represent a very broad tent, and we want to continue to represent a broad base, and we want to continue to have input from a very broad section of America.”

Hoyer said he would not get involved in a brewing caucus fight over proposed rules changes that seek to limit Pelosi’s power as leader to unilaterally select heads of the steering and rules committees, as well as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Blue Dogs want more open elections for those positions instead of a system whereby the caucus simply ratifies an appointment by the party leader.

The Maryland Democrat also pushed back against the suggestion that keeping the same triumvirate of aging lawmakers — Pelosi, Hoyer and Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) — atop the leadership would hurt Democratic chances to rebound in 2012. Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn are all in their 70s and are considerably older than their counterparts in the GOP.

“It’s not a question of age, it’s a question of mind, vision and commitment,” Hoyer said, after initially laughing off the question. “I don’t think any of you have seen me limping into this room.”

He also made a comparison between the Democratic leadership, which includes the first woman Speaker and a black civil rights leader in Clyburn, and the all-white, all-male top three Republicans. “I want you to look at the Democratic leadership, and then I want you to look at the Republican leadership, and then I want you to look at America,” Hoyer said. “You tell me which body is representative of our country.”