Dems downplay whispers of coup against Steny Hoyer

A number of House Democrats are dismissing the threat to Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) following a news report revealing younger members in the caucus are hoping to prevent him from succeeding Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Hoyer, the 75-year-old Democratic whip, has been standing one step behind Pelosi for more than a decade, after he challenged her unsuccessfully for the minority whip spot in 2001, and he’s eager to move up the ladder should she step down.

{mosads}But House Democrats have been licking their wounds following a disastrous 2014 election cycle, and there’s a lingering concern the party will need fresh faces if it hopes to regain control of the lower chamber any time soon.

Against that backdrop, some of Pelosi’s closest allies held a series of secret talks this year designed to whip support for Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) to replace her whenever she does leave Capitol Hill, The New York Times Magazine reported Wednesday.

That strategy quickly fell apart in March, after Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) announced her retirement and Van Hollen jumped into the race to replace her. But a number of House Democrats said the coup would have failed in any event. 

“Were the leader spot to come open, Steny would be a shoo-in for that job,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said Wednesday. “Everybody kind of feels he’s earned it, it’s his turn. He’s been a loyal lieutenant and an able whip and leader. He’s respected across the ideological spectrum in our caucus.”

Pelosi is famously evasive about her future plans, and has given no signal that she intends to step away from Congress at the end of the term. But the meetings between Van Hollen and her allies — including Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) and Donna Edwards (D-Md.) — have fueled speculation that she also wants to prevent Hoyer from ever gaining the top leadership spot, an idea rejected by her office Wednesday. 

“Leader Pelosi has always said she’s here on a mission not a shift,” spokesman Drew Hammill said in an email. “The Leader has been honored by the support of her colleagues and believes the decision about who will lead the Caucus is up to the Members.”

The Times story reports that Pelosi “begged” Van Hollen to stay in the House, but declined to reveal when she’d step aside to make room for his potential ascension. The report also strongly suggested that Van Hollen’s decision to seek the Senate came only after he was not offered that assurance — a notion disputed by Van Hollen’s office. 

“Congressman Van Hollen’s decision to run for the Senate had nothing to do with Leader Pelosi’s continued service to the House Democratic Caucus,” a Van Hollen aide said in a statement to The Hill.

Another Democratic aide noted Wednesday that, aside from some ideological differences between Pelosi and Hoyer, there is “concern from some corner of the caucus” that Hoyer simply lacks the fundraising power to make the party competitive. In the last election cycle, for instance, Pelosi gave more than $67 million to the party’s campaign arm, versus Hoyer’s $3.9 million, the aide said.

Republicans have pounced on the Times story, with the National Republican Congressional Committee blasting an email Wednesday portraying Democrats as “a dysfunctional reality TV family.”

Van Hollen, 56, is the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee who, with Pelosi’s blessing, has been a de facto member of the leadership team since his term as head of the party’s campaign arm ended in 2011.

Pelosi, 75, has stressed the importance of having a younger crop of leaders atop the party, calling in March for a “generational change” in the lower chamber. But she didn’t say when.

A number of Democrats, meanwhile, say they’re perfectly content with the leadership structure as it stands. 

“The grumbling after the election was exaggerated,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said Wednesday. “No Democrat likes to come back to work in the minority — I certainly don’t — but our defeats in this election had nothing to do with Nancy Pelosi. [They] had everything to do with national mood and quite frankly a redistricting situation that makes it very difficult for us to win in certain states, no matter what the mood may be. 

“[Republicans] grumble about their leadership,” McGovern added. “We’re actually content with our leadership.”

Tags Chris Van Hollen Nancy Pelosi Steny Hoyer United States House of Representatives

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