Democrats rebuff Pelosi in vote

Democrats rebuff Pelosi in vote

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi says Trump sanctions package on Turkey 'falls very short' Graham throws support behind Trump's Turkey sanctions Feehery: Trump may be down, but he's not out yet MORE (D-Calif.) suffered a rare but prominent defeat on Wednesday when Democrats chose Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) as ranking member of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. 

Although Pallone was next in line to replace retiring Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on the panel, Pelosi had come out in strong and vocal support of his challenger, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D), a fellow Californian and close friend to the minority leader.

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Pelosi’s public endorsement — a shift in protocol for a leader who typically operates behind the scenes — upped the stakes of the race, which many viewed as a test of her influence following a disastrous electoral cycle for her party in which House Republicans won their largest majority in decades.

Although Pelosi this week ran unchallenged as House Democrats’ leader for the next Congress, Pallone’s victory highlights the limits of her power and caps a tough run for the California liberal, who’s led her party for the last 12 years.

She’s been under a microscope since the midterm election rout, with many Democrats and party strategists itching for some younger talent — or at least a fresh message. 

“This party has to look internally as to where the hell it’s going,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), who had called, unsuccessfully, for a delay in leadership elections to allow members to digest the election results. “If we think there’s no difference in what happened this time and what happened in 2010 ... we are dead wrong.”

Pelosi raised more eyebrows when she downplayed the degree of the Democrats’ losses by rejecting the “wave” designation being applied by other observers of all stripes and affiliations.

More recently, she angered many in her caucus when she denied a request from Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), an Iraq War veteran and double amputee who backed Pallone, to vote in leadership elections by proxy because her pregnancy prevented her from traveling to Washington.

The episode launched a spirited debate in the Democrats’ caucus meeting Tuesday, inspiring Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the civil rights icon, to make an emotional plea to allow Duckworth a vote. 

Even Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” hit Pelosi, with a sketch ripping her on the controversy — an embarrassing, if trivial, call from a much-watched liberal entertainer who often backs Pelosi’s positions and has on multiple occasions had her on the show as a guest.

Pelosi bounced back quickly Wednesday afternoon, securing a win for Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) over Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) atop the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Brown was next in line to replace outgoing Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), and Pelosi had endorsed her publicly earlier in the month.

Yet even in victory there was controversy — and criticism of Pelosi’s tactics. That’s because, as head of the Democrats’ Steering and Policy Committee, Pelosi had led the push to deny Walz a vote, arguing that his special waiver status means he’s not technically a member of the VA panel in the 114th Congress — at least, not yet.

The move infuriated veterans groups and some Democrats, who are suggesting Pelosi’s methods were underhanded.

“That wasn’t cool at all,” said one House Democrat, who spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the topic. “Aside from the Pallone thing, which reaffirmed seniority, this one has different reverberations, because it’s about member-to-member treatment.”

A Pelosi spokesman later announced that the Minnesota lawmaker had accepted an offer from the minority leader to serve on the committee in the next Congress and chair quarterly roundtables with veterans service organizations, which have been held regularly since 2006.

Still, despite the rash of recent controversies, few are questioning the power Pelosi has in the party as lawmakers head into the 114th Congress — and the 2016 election cycle. She’s a tireless campaigner; a tenacious defender of the Democrats’ policy priorities; she won the unanimous support of her caucus in Tuesday’s leadership vote; and she’s a powerhouse fundraiser, hauling in more than $100 million for the party in the midterm cycle alone. 

“I don’t think it takes any power away from her. She’s still powerful, she still can do things,” said another House Democrat, who also didn’t want to be quoted by name. “I don’t think she’s had a fall at all, and I think you’ll see that as we get into battle [with Republicans].”

“I haven’t heard a single person say, ‘Ha, we beat her.’ ”