Dems delay vote on picking leaders

Dems delay vote on picking leaders
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

Facing heavy pressure from House Democrats, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday delayed the party's leadership elections until the end of the month.

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The move came amid a growing groundswell of frustration within the Democratic Caucus that the party's message has failed to resonate with much of the country –– particularly among the rural, working-class voters who have shifted steadily toward the Republicans in recent cycles, lifting Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president MORE to his presidential victory last week.

Dozens of rank-and-file Democrats had pressed Pelosi to delay Thursday's vote to allow "an internal conversation" about the party's strategic path back to power, in the words of Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), who led the charge. That push reached a fever pitch at a closed-door Democratic meeting Tuesday morning in the Capitol, where a long string of Democrats, siding with Moulton, voiced their opposition to a vote this week.

"The American people cried out last week and we've got to listen,” Moulton said afterward.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), another vocal proponent of delaying the vote, said the move was not a shot at Pelosi, but a signal to voters that Democrats are aware the party's message has failed to resonate, and they're seeking ways to be more effective.

"This is a message to our constituents, saying we have heard you, we have clearly missed the mark [in] regards to legislation and messaging, and we're going to work on this to make sure that we're an effective caucus to put up the opposition to Donald Trump and to make sure that he is only a one-term president," Gallego said.

Those lawmakers have stopped short of calling for new leadership, but the two-week delay until Nov. 30 conceivably gives more time for lawmakers to mount a potential challenge to Pelosi.

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who hasn't ruled out such a challenge, said Tuesday that Democratic leadership needs to be more regionally diverse if the party is going to win back the rural voters who have fled to the GOP's tent. States like Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin "don't have a lot of representation" relative to the coastal states, he said.

"We lost those voters and we've gotta find a way to get them back in, and that starts with a message that resonates in the flyover states," Ryan said.

That was a frequent theme among the Democrats emerging from Tuesday's closed-door meeting in the Capitol.

"What is happening in this country is [that] the economy is getting divided," said Rep. Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchOne Vermont Republican wins statewide nomination in six races Live results: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Vermont, Connecticut hold primaries Overnight Health Care: Trump officials approve proposals to shore up ObamaCare | Study says 'Medicare for All' would cost .6T over 10 years | Dems court conservative Republican in drug pricing fight MORE (D-Vt.), who also supported the delay. "It's divided between small geographic areas where things are going well, and where wealth is being created and concentrated, and a lot of America –– rural America and small towns –– where folks are struggling.

"Those folks, they've lost faith in Democrats," Welch added. "They don't believe us."

Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) said it would be "more than a little unfair" to blame Pelosi and the current leadership team for last week's election results, which were largely swayed by the presidential candidates at the top of the ballot. But, noting that Trump's win in his home state of Pennsylvania was the first victory for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, he said the party needs a sweeping self-examination that stretches back well beyond the 2016 cycle.

"This is part of a larger trend for us," Boyle said. "I know everyone's … focused on our specific leadership … My point is … that it's a much bigger issue than just who the specific leaders may be at a certain period of time."

A number of lawmakers left Tuesday's meeting voicing strong confidence in Pelosi and the current leadership team.

Rep. G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldJackson Lee: Dems must be 'vigilant' in ensuring all Americans have right to vote  Facebook to remove over 5K ad target options to curb discrimination On The Money: Harley-Davidson decision raises trade tensions with Trump | Senate panel to take up tariff legislation | CBO projects grim budget outlook under Trump | White House objects to measure on reinstating ZTE ban MORE (D-N.C.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Pelosi "enjoys great respect and support," among caucus members, and the delay in the elections "has no reflection on her leadership at all."

The delay makes sense, Butterfield said, "because we just got a shellacking."

"We got an unexpected defeat, and we've got to recalibrate, and decide how we go forward," he said. "It's just like death: There are different stages of grief that you go through."

Initially, it appeared the House Democrats would vote on Thursday to decide whether to go forward with their elections that same day. Then, in a shift, Pelosi decided simply to delay the elections to Nov. 30. A similar vote to delay the leadership elections in 2010 was shot down by an overwhelming margin.

There's some dispute over what spurred Pelosi's change of heart.

One aide in the room said Pelosi told the lawmakers she had initially intended the elections to be held after Thanksgiving, but moved them forward after being criticized for a "delay."

"Many of the members were saying, 'Why are you delaying the elections?,' " Pelosi said, according to the aide. "And the press was picking that up. 'Why are you delaying the elections.' I'm not delaying it."

Referring to the timeline, Pelosi told lawmakers, "I don't care," according to the aide. "I'm agnostic."

But a second aide said Pelosi initially pushed back hard against the notion of moving the elections beyond this week, arguing that, "we have an emergency" and therefore need to proceed. 

Pelosi was "really angry," the second aide said, telling her troops that the debate was "not worth it" and "not productive" and that “we need to end this meeting” –– and kick the election to later.

After the meeting, with a crowd of reporters huddled in one hallway leading to the meeting room, Pelosi took another.

--This report was updated at 6:14 p.m.