Pelosi dodges questions about leadership plans in next Congress

Rep. Nancy Pelosi will announce on Wednesday whether she’ll retain her position as House Democratic leader next year.

Her decision will determine if the Democrats’ leadership backbone will remain largely unchanged in the 113th Congress — the likely scenario if she stays — or if there will be a scramble to fill the power void that would attend her stepping out of the minority-leader spot.

Her answer has been Capitol Hill’s best-kept secret. Pelosi (Calif.) has played her cards close to the vest, giving coy answers when asked and offering no hints as to her plans.

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She kept the guessing game going on Tuesday, when she dodged a question about her future, saying she’ll announce her intentions only after she informs her troops at a closed-door caucus meeting scheduled for Wednesday morning.

“While I love you all very dearly, I thought maybe I would talk to my own caucus before I share that information with you,” Pelosi told reporters during a press conference with newly elected Democrats in the Capitol.

“I’ll see you right here, 10 o’clock tomorrow morning.”

No matter her decision, Pelosi has guaranteed her place in history as the first female Speaker. She led the House from 2007 until 2011, when Republicans netted a mammoth 63 seats in the 2010 election. She has been a prolific fundraiser for the party, hitting the $300 million mark earlier this year, and has proven an effective boogeyman for Republicans, who successfully tied her to Democratic candidates last cycle, which contributed to their gains.

The issue is not whether Pelosi intends to remain in Congress; she’s already indicated that she’ll serve out the next two years regardless of whether she cedes her leadership post — a message her office confirmed Tuesday. 

“Leader Pelosi intends to continue to serve her constituents in the next Congress,” said spokesman Drew Hammill.

Nor is there any real question about whether she would remain minority leader if she wanted to, as her popularity in the caucus makes her an easy favorite for the spot even if an unexpected challenge did emerge — a dynamic her lieutenants readily concede.

“If she wants to run for reelection, I guarantee you she will get reelected,” Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, told MSNBC last week. “She has the votes to do that.”

But Pelosi’s enduring silence on her future has only fueled speculation that the 72-year-old grandmother, who this year celebrated her silver anniversary on Capitol Hill, might pass the leadership baton to a younger generation of Democrats after 10 years at the party’s helm, the longest continuous run in more than 50 years.

Those theories were bolstered last December when Pelosi’s daughter Alexandra said her mother “would retire right now” if it weren’t for “an obligation” she felt to the Democratic Party and its donors.

“She has very few days left,” Alexandra told the conservative Big Government blog at the time. “She’s 71; she wants to have a life; she’s done.” 

Pelosi’s office pushed back hard against that notion — and the younger Pelosi was quick to walk it back — but the episode renewed questions about what a leadership shuffle in Pelosi’s absence would look like. Not only are the old bulls like Clyburn and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) eager to move up the ladder, but a younger crop of ambitious Democrats is also eyeing a place at the leadership table.

On the shortlist of up-and-comers are Democratic Reps. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), all of whom Pelosi mentioned in September as future leaders of the party.

Pelosi had campaigned tirelessly for threatened Democrats this election cycle in an effort to strip House control from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the Republicans. And while the Democrats did better than expected, picking up at least seven new seats, they fell far short of the 25 they needed to take back the gavel they lost in the wave election of 2010.

Still, Pelosi and the Democrats have had unusual leverage under Boehner’s reign, as the Republican Speaker has often struggled to rally the support of his conservative caucus, forcing him to rely on Pelosi to pass a number of budget bills, a dynamic that will likely continue into the next Congress. With the fiscal cliff and grand bargain fights looming, many political observers think Pelosi will find it irresistible to remain Democratic leader in order to be on the front lines of those high-stakes debates.

“I would be shocked if she left,” Wasserman Schultz, the head of the Democratic National Committee, said Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program. “It would really surprise me if she stepped aside.”

Van Hollen, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee who sometimes sits in on House leadership meetings, echoed that sentiment Tuesday. 

“I bet that she’s going to stay,” he said at a Wall Street Journal forum in Washington. 

As some indication of how sensitive Democrats have been with regard to Pelosi’s plans, the Maryland Democrat declined to say if he’d be interested in the post if Pelosi were to step down.

“I’m not getting ahead of anything,” he said. “No. No. No ... I’m respecting this process.”



— Updated at 8:27 p.m.