Pelosi to critics: ‘I think I’m worth the trouble’

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) delivered a defiant message Thursday to those Democrats calling for her ouster following a string of special-election defeats: Bring it on.

“When it comes to personal ambition and having fun on TV, have your fun,” Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol, referring to her detractors making the cable news rounds.

“I love the arena; I thrive on competition; and I welcome the discussion. But I am honored by the support.”

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A number of Democrats, most of them younger members, had tried to oust Pelosi last year after President Trump won the White House, and those lawmakers have revived that effort following Tuesday’s special election in Georgia, where Democrat Jon Ossoff was defeated by Republican Karen Handel in the most expensive House race in the nation’s history.

Pelosi’s critics said the outcome was just the latest evidence that Pelosi’s place at the top of the party is a liability as the Democrats seek to pick up the conservative-leaning seats they’ll need to win back the majority in 2018. Pelosi, a San Francisco liberal despised by the right, has long been the subject of GOP attack ads on Democratic candidates, and the Georgia race was no exception.

“Those are still effective ads that hurt our candidate,” said Rep. Tim Ryan (R-Ohio), who had challenged Pelosi last November.

“We’d better take a good, long, strong look in the mirror and realize that the problem is us, it’s the party.”  

But Pelosi argued the GOP attack ads were motivated by her ability to usher major legislation through Congress during the Obama era, including the healthcare law and Wall Street reform.

Any effective leader, she said, would be a target of the opposition.

“Usually they go after the most effective leaders, because they want to diminish the opportunity that we have,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi touted her own leadership bonafides, characterizing herself as “a master legislator” and a “strategic, politically astute leader.”

“I am proud of the unity that we have had and, frankly, my leadership in terms of keeping everybody together,” she said.

“I think I’m worth the trouble.” 

The Republicans were quick to seize on Pelosi’s “trouble” comment. The National Republican Congressional Committee shot out a one-line email just minutes afterwards: 

“We couldn't agree more!”

Pelosi has previously said she would have retired from Congress if Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies DNC, RNC step up cyber protections Gun proposal picks up GOP support MORE had won the presidential election last November. And on Thursday, she revealed that she’s considered passing the torch on multiple occasions. But she decided to stick around after Trump defied expectations of most members of Congress and won the Electoral College.

“This takes the knowledge and experience that I have … to make this fight,” she said.

Still, younger members disappointed by the November results and the recent slate of special elections have said it’s time for new leadership.

“We need leadership change,” Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) told CNN. “It's time for Nancy Pelosi to go, and the entire leadership team.”

Pelosi, 77, has led House Democrats since 2003. And her top two deputies have also stayed in the Democratic leadership hierarchy for more than a decade: 78-year-old House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) and 76-year-old Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn (S.C.). 

The logjam at the top of the party has led to perennial grumbling among some younger members that the party’s top brass should move on to make room for a new generation of leaders. 

Pelosi, who carved out a number of new leadership positions after last year’s elections, suggested her Democratic critics are simply ignoring the opportunities available. 

“The expansion of opportunity in our caucus has been great for people who want to take advantage and help us win,” she said. 

“Maybe they don’t want to play in the arena, but I’m very proud of the members who do.” 

Pelosi expressed irritation that the media’s focus on Democratic infighting had taken the spotlight off the healthcare bill written behind closed doors in the Senate this week. 

Without singling out any Democratic detractor by name, Pelosi suggested they were promoting themselves at the expense of the party.

“I love the fray. I’m not disrespectful of people’s views. I respect any positive things that people want to say or even negative, as long as it’s constructive. But when it’s blatantly self-serving and beyond the normal competition that the press so enjoys focusing on, instead of, wouldn’t it better if all the press were focusing on the Senate heartless, mean-spirited bill?” Pelosi said.

She also offered a warning to those trying to push her out.

“I respect any opinion that my members have,” she said. “But my decision about how long I stay is not up to them.”