By Jared Allen - 12/16/09 07:10 PM EST
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.
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
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
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
“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
This article was updated at 8:33 p.m.