Pelosi: 'I'm in campaign mode'

Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared herself “in campaign mode” Wednesday.

Hours before completing work for 2009 and sending her members home until January, Pelosi (D-Calif.) called reporters to her Capitol Hill office to declare that, with an election year looming, she has transitioned from legislator in chief to campaigner in chief.

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"As I told the members this morning,” she said, “I’m in campaign mode … I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m in campaign mode.”

Pelosi seemed to have mixed feelings about President Barack Obama’s first year in office.

Although she drove a healthcare reform bill and climate-change legislation through the House — efforts of which she is proud — these victories have been soured by action, and inaction, in the Senate.

The upper chamber has stripped core liberal tenets from healthcare legislation and rejected the possibility of passing a climate-change bill this year.

Pundits warn that Pelosi could lose her comfortable majority in the 2010 midterm elections because so many vulnerable House Democrats have been left exposed for supporting liberal healthcare and climate bills that won’t become law.

Republicans pounced on the Speaker’s Wednesday morning comments.

“If passing a vastly unpopular healthcare takeover is Nancy Pelosi’s idea of being an effective campaigner, then 2010 is going to be a really tough year for Democrats,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain said. “If she is, in fact, ready to campaign, we would happily pay for the airfare to fly her out to one of our targeted districts in the new year. She has been such a blessing for Republicans’ election prospects over the past several months that it will be hard to say goodbye to 2009.”

Despite Republican excitement about the 2010 elections — a sentiment bolstered by retirement announcements from three conservative Democrats, as well as one centrist — Pelosi said she was confident she would hold on to her majority.

“I think we will have a Democratic majority,” she said. “I don’t think there’s any risk to that.”

But she acknowledged that the party would probably lose seats next November. “It’s been a swing of about 110 seats,” she said, referring to the 2006 and 2008 election results. “That is really challenging to sustain. But that’s our goal, to sustain our majority. And we’ll have a strong majority.”

Yet if Pelosi loses anything close to 30 seats, the historical average in a new president’s first midterm cycle, it will be even more difficult for her to pass anything controversial than it was in 2009.



Pelosi began telling members privately last week that she would not bring controversial bills, such as immigration reform and “card-check,” to the House floor unless they have already passed the Senate. This is a clear early indication that her legislative plan for 2010 will be far less ambitious than the one she just completed. On Wednesday she reiterated that message publicly.

“What we talk to members about is, ‘Be proud of what we have done; we have a historic opportunity to accomplish a great deal more when some of this is passed in the Senate,’ ” she said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), a vital link between Pelosi and the conservative wing of the caucus, said recently that the House’s agenda next year will center on job creation and deficit reduction. The focus is designed to court independents and to hold off voter defections to Republican challengers.

Democrats hope they’ve done enough to prod the Senate into action on their main priorities, but not so much as to put too many vulnerable Democrats in danger of defeat. The party also hopes that time will heal any wounds inflicted during 2009.

Pelosi argued Wednesday that having healthcare reform signed into law would do more than anything else to help Democrats regain control of the public debate.

“It’s very hard to merchandise healthcare until you have a bill,” she said. “When we have a bill, and the discussion is no longer about the bishops or the public option, and it’s about what’s in the bill for the American people, why this is important for them, then I think that changes.”

But liberal Democrats, who make up Pelosi’s base, are just as concerned that shifting next year to a strategy based on electoral defense could pose as great a threat to their majority as continuing to act boldly.

“There are not a lot of laurels to sit on right now,” said Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.). “I think, whether it’s immigration or jobs, we have to have an aggressive agenda; otherwise we run the risk of creating an inertia that’s not going to help us motivate people to try to keep the majority in 2010.

“We have to motivate the base. We have to keep setting the table for the Senate. We really do, because it’s not going to come from over there.”

This article was updated at 8:33 p.m.