Dem women stand behind Pelosi

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Female lawmakers are lining up to form the backbone of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) campaign to hold on to her leadership position atop the House Democratic Caucus.

Sixty-five women will vote in Wednesday’s House Democratic leadership elections, and 50 of them have signed on to a letter declaring support for Pelosi’s bid to lead her caucus for an eighth term. 

{mosads}To be sure, Pelosi’s expected support comes from a diverse coalition she has held together since becoming the party’s leader in 2003.

Yet women are likely to make up more than half of the minimum 100 votes she needs to win the leadership race against Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio).

Among many female Democrats, there’s a sense of loyalty toward one of their own.

And with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) starting his first term leading Senate Democrats in January, many say Pelosi’s experience negotiating deals with Republicans will be critical in the new Donald Trump administration.

“I think that more than ever, we need an experienced practician and legislator who’s a proven fighter,” Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), the incoming co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, told The Hill.

She acknowledged the argument made by Ryan and other Democrats that the party needs to find a better way to appeal to white, working-class voters in the Rust Belt who propelled Trump to victory on Election Day. 

But at the same time, Frankel said, “The fact of the matter is a big part of our base is women.” 

Pelosi, the first woman to serve as Speaker, is proud of the overwhelming support from female members.

Her team has invoked feminist imagery in its leadership campaign with a “#StandWithNancy” tweet featuring Pelosi’s face on the iconic picture of Rosie the Riveter.

Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) spearheaded a letter with other House Democratic women expressing their support for Pelosi’s continued leadership. Only six of the 56 returning incumbent female members — including three non-voting delegates — chose to leave their names off. 

The women are coming to Pelosi’s defense after a markedly anti-establishment election cycle, lauding her “battle-tested leadership.” And they also say having a woman lead the party after Hillary Clinton’s shocking loss sends an important message.

“After everything that happened in this campaign, the defeat of Hillary Clinton is an especially heavy blow to the aspirations of young women and girls. They need to see the first woman Speaker — and every woman Member of Congress — standing firm in the halls of power, continuing to fight for their rights, their dignity, and their dreams,” they wrote. 

Women’s advocacy groups also rushed to endorse Pelosi, including EMILY’s List and Feminist Majority.

“We must not forget that women are now 60 percent of the Democratic vote and Pelosi’s leadership is especially needed when the Republicans will try to strip social services women vitally need,” Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal said.

While the overwhelming majority of Democratic women have pledged their support to Pelosi, a handful are leaving their options open or are supporting Ryan instead.

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) was the first lawmaker to publicly back Ryan and was part of an effort to delay the leadership elections after Pelosi originally scheduled them for the week after Election Day. 

Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) also kept her signature off Matsui’s letter and announced her support for Ryan this week. The former Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman said “now is the right time for new leadership” with her fellow Ohioan.

And fellow Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur, the most senior female lawmaker in the House, signed Matsui’s letter but previously indicated she might be open to a Pelosi challenger.

“If someone from our region entered the race, I would have to reconsider,” she told reporters before Ryan announced his candidacy.

A Kaptur spokesman didn’t respond when asked if she still planned to vote for Pelosi.

Another Matsui letter signee, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), also represents the Rust Belt region and penned a Washington Post op-ed after the election saying Democrats missed signs they could lose her state. 

But a spokeswoman confirmed Dingell still plans to vote for Pelosi.  

Pelosi supporters acknowledge that more should be done to promote newer members into the leadership pipeline. The second- and third-ranking members of the House Democratic hierarchy, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.) have both served in leadership for more than a decade. All three are in their late seventies. 

In an effort to assuage members’ concerns, Pelosi outlined proposed reforms to the leadership structure to create more positions and limit certain roles to newer members.  

They include establishing vice ranking member slots — or vice chairs, if Democrats were to retake the House majority — and five regional vice chairs at the party’s campaign arm. Clyburn’s current position of assistant minority leader would become an elected position once he retires and open only to a member who has served fewer than three terms.

Pelosi’s proposals in a letter to House Democrats came days after Ryan offered similar ideas to reform the House Democratic campaign arm and add new leadership positions for newer members.  

The parallel moves underline the current leadership structure’s failure to give Democrats an obvious and tested successor to Pelosi.

Ryan, 43, has never before expressed interest in running for a leadership slot over his 13 years in the House. He also passed on chances to run for Senate and governor in Ohio.

His fundraising record of less than $1 million this cycle pales in comparison to Pelosi, who raked in more than $141 million to help Democratic candidates across the country. Ryan has said he simply wasn’t planning to run for leadership until he saw the implications of Trump’s victory. 

Before he entered the race, Pelosi said she had support from more than two-thirds of members. 

But even if Ryan falls short, he’ll have nonetheless prompted a discussion about revamping how House Democratic leadership operates.

“Nancy Pelosi is so huge in our caucus that if she left now, we would have a very big hole,” said Frankel, who was just reelected to her third term. 

“I really do believe in succession building and giving people experience for future leadership. I think that will end up being a good thing to come out of this,” she said.

Tags Charles Schumer Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Lois Frankel Marcia Fudge

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