Dems huddle to discuss Pelosi frustrations

Dems huddle to discuss Pelosi frustrations
© Greg Nash

Roughly a dozen frustrated Democrats huddled Thursday on Capitol Hill to discuss the party’s path back to the majority — a process some lawmakers maintain can’t happen with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) remaining at the helm.

Reps. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), who organized the meeting, characterized it as a simple conversation about how best to improve Democrats’ prospects after a string of special election losses that included Tuesday’s high-profile defeat in Georgia. 

But the group largely consisted of the same lawmakers who had tried, unsuccessfully, to topple Pelosi last November and have revived that effort this week. 

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“We are listening — we’re listening to other members of the caucus and we’re just facilitating a conversation that I think we all agree needs to [happen],” Moulton said afterward. “I believe there’s enough interest in this that the conversation will continue.”

It’s unclear what options the detractors have, given their small numbers and the overwhelming support Pelosi still enjoys within the caucus she’s controlled for the last 14 years. 

“I’m very interested in figuring out how to make things better, and I’m not sure exactly how that happens or what to do,” said Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio). “I want to be a part of what’s going to position us best to take the House back.”  

Part of the dilemma facing Pelosi’s critics is the simple fact that no one has volunteered to take her on. Ryan, who challenged Pelosi last fall, said he has no interest in doing so again. 

“I think there are people who would do it,” he said. “I just think people want to know that they’re going to be supported, and that they’re going to have the support of the caucus.”

Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas), who said he supported Pelosi over Ryan last fall, has also emerged as a vocal critic in the wake of the Georgia race. And Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, also joined Thursday’s small gathering, though he stopped well short of calling for Pelosi to step down. 

“Conversations are conversations and … discussions are healthy,” he said. “I don’t expect any pushback for listening.” 

Pelosi, for her part, addressed the controversy directly Thursday during a press conference in the Capitol, where she defended her leadership track record and practically taunted the critics calling for her removal.  

“When it comes to personal ambition and having fun on TV, have your fun,” she said. 

“I love the arena; I thrive on competition; and I welcome the discussion.” 

Pelosi, 77, who has led the Democrats since 2003, still boasts the backing of a vast majority of her liberal-heavy caucus — a dynamic she was quick to note Thursday.

“Every action has a reaction; I try to say that to them, every attack provokes a massive reaction that is very encouraging to me,” she said.

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

Asked if the Democrats can take back the House with Pelosi atop the party, Richmond paused, then said: “Probably. It’s not going to be easy.”

Richmond declined to say if he supported Pelosi in last fall’s leadership vote.

“I voted for myself for Black Caucus chair, and because I’m chair of the Black Caucus I won’t talk about who I supported, when I supported [them] and who I would support in the future,” he said.

Richmond said he understands the “unease” voiced by Pelosi’s critics, noting that the Democrats haven’t been in the majority since he joined Congress. But he also defended Pelosi, arguing that Democrats have been too timid in shielding their leader in the face of years of attacks from Republicans. 

“If you say stuff long enough, people start to believe it. So if they keep saying she’s bad, and we don’t say anything else, then the country may believe it,” he said. 

“We’ve let people say that Nancy Pelosi is some horrible person for so long without defending her that people started to believe it. And at some point, the right thing to do … is to defend her and her legacy.”

Richmond said that rehabilitating Pelosi’s image in conservative-leaning districts where she’s often a lightning rod for criticism would be “an expensive endeavor” — but one worth pursuing.

“If you make Nancy Pelosi’s name synonymous with the gains we’ve made and the things we want to make in the future, every time they say her name they’re just reminding people what it is we want to do,” Richmond said.  

“I don’t think anybody’s fighting back. I think we’re just sitting back and taking it. And at some point I don’t think we should sit back and take it.”

Pelosi, by far the Democrats’ most potent fundraiser, said Thursday that she’s been pressed in the past to spend some of the money promoting herself, but decided against it. 

“People say to me all the time, ‘You raise more money than anybody. … Why don't you spend some of your money on yourself?’ ” she said. 

“Maybe I should, but the fact is [that] what I want to do is have these members present themselves.”