Top Democrats reject proposal to delay leadership vote

Top House Democrats have set caucus leadership elections for next Wednesday, rejecting a push by two members to delay them into December.

The current party leadership agreed in a conference call to go ahead with the elections during the lame-duck session, when incoming lawmakers will be in town to vote on them, leadership aides said.

The decision puts in place a deadline for the ongoing battle between Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.) for the minority whip position, which many Democrats want to see resolved before members are forced to choose between the two men in a secret ballot.

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Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), a close confidant of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), on Wednesday rejected a plea from two of his colleagues to delay the vote. He said it's important to get the leadership team in place as soon as possible.

"I don't really think that makes any sense," he said of the proposal on MSNBC. "We all know what time means."

Miller put a damper on a letter circulated by Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) Tuesday that asked House Democrats to push back the elections in order to "fully understand the causes of our historic losses before we begin the process of rebuilding.

DeFazio, a liberal member of the caucus, has criticized Pelosi in the past.

Pelosi offered no comments on the leadership race roiling her caucus on Wednesday when she helped break ground on a memorial for disabled veterans near the Capitol.

The Speaker’s participation in the event marked a rare public appearance since Democrats lost the House majority in last week’s midterm elections. Reporters swarmed Pelosi after the event, but she left without taking questions.

Republicans made a net gain of at least 60 seats, taking control of the House from Democrats in a landslide that trumped the 1994 Republican revolution. Some Democrats have blamed Pelosi for the losses because she ushered through unpopular legislation such as healthcare reform and the cap-and-trade climate bill.

Pelosi’s decision to run for minority leader has irritated some Democrats who believe their leadership team should change given the drubbing the party endured last week. Some also believe the party could benefit from new blood.

It has also created a race for the No. 2 position in the minority caucus. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) are both pursuing the position in a battle that could divide the caucus.

While both members have sought to play up the cordial but competitive nature of the minority whip race, Clyburn on Tuesday criticized Hoyer’s tactics of publicly announcing his supporters. Hoyer is believed to have a 4 to 1 lead in informal whip counts.

Miller said that a vote should be taken next week, and was confident that Pelosi would win a term as minority leader.

"Overwhelmingly, the caucus believes in the talents and the skills of Speaker Pelosi," he said.

He also expressed hope that Hoyer and Clyburn could both remain in leadership and struck a defiant note when backing the Speaker.

"They can boo all they want, we are going to leave the most effective people in the playing field [in charge of our caucus]," he said. "If I was a Republican, I'd be upset she is going to [stay] too."

— Russell Berman contributed to this story. This story has been updated from a 9:30 a.m. version