Dem leader Pelosi backs $15 minimum wage

Francis Rivera

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is throwing her weight behind the $15 minimum wage, joining a growing chorus of liberals on and off Capitol Hill who support more than doubling the current $7.25 rate.

The move aligns Pelosi with Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersIt's time for Sanders to exit stage left Green Party could be election spoiler Trump courts energy industry MORE (I-Vt.) and the most liberal members of her left-leaning caucus but sets her apart from other top Democrats, including President Obama — who is endorsing a $12 level — and Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonIt's time for Sanders to exit stage left Navy SEAL congressman endorses Trump Trump courts energy industry MORE, who supports a wage hike but hasn’t named a figure.

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Pelosi’s endorsement is also something of a departure from an earlier strategy by Democratic leaders to unify around a lesser rate. In April, top Democrats — including Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidOvernight Defense: VA chief 'deeply' regrets Disney remark; Senate fight brews over Gitmo Overnight Healthcare: House loosens pesticide rules to fight Zika | A GOP bill that keeps some of ObamaCare | More proof of pending premium hikes The Trail 2016: Digging up dirt MORE (Nev.) and Labor Secretary Thomas PerezThomas E. PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE — had rallied behind legislation hiking the wage to $12 per hour.

But since then, liberals in both chambers — including Sanders, a 2016 presidential hopeful, and the leaders of the Progressive Caucus — have introduced legislation pushing the rate to the $15 level by 2020.

Additionally, a number of local governments, including in Pelosi’s hometown of San Francisco, have moved to adopt that figure.

Amid the building momentum, Pelosi said Tuesday morning that she supports the higher national standard, even while suggesting it’s a long shot in a Republican-led Congress.

“Twelve dollars may be what can pass, but I’m for $15 per hour,” Pelosi said as she headed into the weekly Democratic Caucus meeting in the Capitol, according to her office.

Her statement came the same day The Hill ran a story highlighting the diverging views of leading Democrats on the target figure for the minimum wage, an issue they’ve long championed.

From a practical standpoint, Pelosi’s endorsement will likely change little on Capitol Hill. Republican leaders oppose any hike in the minimum wage and control both chambers.

But in terms of messaging, her support for the $15 rate further highlights the stark differences between the parties when it comes to the government’s role in dealing with wage stagnation. It’s a message the Democrats are hoping to take into the long August recess.

“Folks here are AWOL on the Republican side on helping American workers,” Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraDems discuss dropping Wasserman Schultz Overnight Healthcare: House loosens pesticide rules to fight Zika | A GOP bill that keeps some of ObamaCare | More proof of pending premium hikes House Dems lining up against Senate Zika bill MORE (Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Tuesday. “We’re talking about making it a living wage.”

Pressed on whether Democrats are agreed on a wage level, Becerra said, “Many of us — locally at least — are going to continue to push very hard for a $15 minimum wage.”

Pelosi’s support for the $15 figure also puts pressure on other leading Democrats, including Obama and Clinton, to embrace a benchmark that’s quickly catching on with the party’s liberal base.

Betsey Stevenson, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said Tuesday that Obama’s position on the minimum wage — which has shifted from $9 to $10.10 to $12 during his presidency — remains unchanged. She did not specifically address the question of the $15 rate.

“The White House has been pretty clear that we support raising the minimum wage for the nation. … We haven’t shifted our position on that,” Stevenson told reporters on a conference call.

Clinton, meanwhile, has endorsed New York’s recent push to adopt the $15 rate for fast food workers, but has not said how high she’d like to raise the federal rate. 

The silence has not been overlooked by Sanders, who has repeatedly trumpeted his support for the dramatic wage hike in an effort to draw distinctions between his economic policies and those of Clinton.

Jordan Fabian contributed.