House

Pelosi holds back endorsement in Clinton-Sanders fight

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is the last of the holdouts.

The House minority leader has dropped plenty of hints that she wants Hillary Clinton to prevail in her historic run for the White House, but she’s withheld an official endorsement amid the primary contest pitting Clinton against Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a liberal icon.

{mosads}With Speaker Paul Ryan’s Thursday endorsement of Donald Trump, Pelosi is now the only top congressional leader of either party, in either chamber, to withhold an endorsement this year.

The silence has become more intriguing in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s primary in her home state of California, but Pelosi has hinted she doesn’t want her endorsement to undermine voter turnout in the state. True to form, she’s remained non-committal. 

“I will make an endorsement, and I’ll decide when that is,” she told reporters in San Francisco last month. “But I won’t be telling you that right now.”

Pelosi’s reticence highlights the tightrope she’s walking in her different roles as a party leader, campaign strategist, monster fundraiser, California legislator, liberal advocate and feminist champion.

It also underscores the tricky political environment Democratic leaders are navigating in the face of Sanders’s resounding success. 

The Vermont senator has drawn an enormous following few foresaw a year ago, and his thundering promotion of economic justice has reverberated with millennials, blue-collar workers and otherwise disenchanted voters both distrustful of Clinton and compelled by the thought of sending an outsider to the White House.

Many Sanders supporters are already furious at the Democratic Party for its handling of the primary, accusing top leaders –– most notably Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), who heads the Democratic National Committee –– of rigging the contest in favor of Clinton. And Pelosi’s endorsement of the former secretary of State might only fuel that outrage and alienate Sanders’s backers to the detriment of the party in November.

Instead, Pelosi has trod delicately around those divisions by praising both Wasserman Schultz and Sanders, while emphasizing the need to channel the energy Sanders has generated by getting his supporters to the polls –– even if he’s not on the ticket.

Last month, Pelosi called him “a positive force” for Democrats up and down the ballot.

“He has awakened in some people an interest in the political process that wasn’t there,” she said.

Still, Pelosi has also left little mystery about which Democrat she favors.

She’s repeatedly characterized Clinton as among the best prepared presidential candidates in the nation’s history; she often couches her evasive predictions about the next White House resident with an unsubtle, “Whoever she may be;” and she’s done nothing to disguise her excitement in the thought of electing the country’s first woman as commander in chief.  

John Hudak, congressional expert at the Brookings Institution, said Pelosi has withheld her official endorsement both because she takes pride in her role as “a peacemaker” atop the party, and “for fear of being accused of playing favorites or trying to influence the vote.”

“She’s … been around politics long enough to know that the energy around the Sanders campaign could be very positive for the party, or very negative,” Hudak said by phone Friday. “She’s going to work very hard to bring progressives into the fold.”

Pelosi is hardly the only prominent Democrat to remain officially neutral. President Obama, Vice President Biden, former Vice President Al Gore and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), another liberal paragon, have also declined to endorse through the primary. 

But Pelosi’s position sets her apart from every other House Democratic leader –– including Reps. Steny Hoyer (Md.), Jim Clyburn (S.C.), Xavier Becerra (Calif.) and Joe Crowley (N.Y.) –– all of whom are backing Clinton both in voice and, increasingly, on the campaign stump.

Other Democrat leaders have adopted competing strategies when it comes to timing their endorsements around their home-state primaries. Clyburn, for instance, endorsed Clinton just a few weeks before voters went to the polls in South Carolina in February. That same month, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) waited a few days after Clinton won Nevada’s primary to throw his weight behind her.

Pelosi never made an official endorsement in the 2008 primary contest between Clinton and Obama, then an Illinois senator. But she caused a minor uproar when she amplified her opposition to the Democrats’ super-delegate system –– a position she’s held for decades –– at a point when Clinton was ahead, outraging some voices in the Clinton camp, who saw it as a tacit endorsement of Obama. 

In February, Pelosi told The Hill she’d switch gears this time around and back one of the Democratic primary contenders. She didn’t say when, but she made no bones about predicting the eventual nominee.

“I assume,” she said at the time, “it will be Hillary Clinton.”  

Tags Al Gore Bernie Sanders California Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Harry Reid Hillary Clinton Paul Ryan Xavier Becerra
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