Dems divided over Pelosi's 'transitional' Speaker pitch

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' Trump-Pelosi fight threatens drug pricing talks MORE has a new pitch in her bid for Speaker: She’ll consider stepping down at the end of the next Congress.

The idea of a “transitional” Speaker, a term the 78-year-old California Democrat has floated in recent days, appears designed to win over younger lawmakers who are clamoring for generational change in the leadership ranks but have yet to line up a credible challenger.

The strategy could allow more time for the next Democratic leader to emerge while also providing cover for the slew of candidates distancing themselves from Pelosi on the campaign trail.

ADVERTISEMENT

“The reality is, she herself has said she doesn’t want to do this forever,” freshman Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaProgressive Democrat says Trump victory shed light on divide between Silicon Valley, rural US Democratic rep says targeted sanctions on Huawei are 'reasonable' The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push MORE (D-Calif.), who represents a Bay Area district near Pelosi’s, told The Hill in a telephone interview. “Everyone knows there’s gonna be a transition. And everyone knows we don’t have a logical successor.”

“It’s going to take some time to figure who is going to be our next leader, so there’s a natural progression that will take place,” he added.

Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyPelosi employs committee chairs to tamp down calls for Trump impeachment We can curb potential pandemics by investing in prevention tactics Mueller mystery: Will he ever testify to Congress? MORE (D-Va.) delivered a similar assessment. The departure of would-be senior leaders like now-Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenPhoto showing 3-year-old girl high-five new Harriet Tubman mural goes viral The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Democrats grill Trump Interior chief for saying he hasn't 'lost sleep' over climate change MORE (Md.) and former Reps. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Energy: Trump moves forward with rule on California drilling | House panel advances bill that resumes participation in Paris climate fund | Perry pressed on 'environmental justice' | 2020 Dem proposes climate corps Trump administration moves forward with final rule to allow new California drilling Overnight Energy: Interior chief says climate response falls on Congress | Bernhardt insists officials will complete offshore drilling plans | Judge rules EPA must enforce Obama landfill pollution rules MORE (Calif.) and Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes The lonely world of Justin Amash Israel needs bipartisan support MORE (N.Y.) — combined with the June primary defeat of House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley (N.Y.) — has left the Democrats with “a thin bench” when it comes to lawmakers readily groomed to take the reins of the party, Connolly noted.

Pelosi’s offer to be a temporary Speaker creates space to prepare the next crop of leaders and eases the concerns of frustrated rank-and-file members — Connolly included himself in the group — wary of reelecting the top brass without a longer-term plan for empowering newer voices.

“Even if we elect everybody who’s in leadership today, we still need to develop a bench,” Connolly said Monday by phone. “And I think it’s a smart acknowledgement on Leader Pelosi’s part [to say], ‘I can play a transitional role as we look to who will fill that bench … over the next two years.’”

“This makes the medicine go down easier, voting for her, if I understand, as a member, this is in a sense an interim decision,” he added.

Connolly said it’s “too early to say” whether Pelosi’s pitch will work, and some of her most vocal detractors were quick to dismiss the “transitional” promise as too little, too late.

“We don’t need transitional leadership; we need new leadership,” Rep. Filemon VelaFilemon Bartolome VelaWHIP LIST: Democrats who support an impeachment inquiry against President Trump Border Dems introduce bill to process refugee claims in Central America How Pelosi is punishing some critics while rewarding others MORE (D-Texas) said Monday in a phone call. “And we need to have new leadership from the beginning, when we get back in January.”

Vela said he counts at least a dozen incumbent Democrats who will vote against Pelosi in January’s floor vote, regardless of the outcome of next month's midterm elections.

“I’m going to the floor and I’m going to vote for somebody else,” Vela said.

The Democratic leadership elections will take place at the end of the November, and a formal floor vote for Speaker will take place in early January.

Data analysis site FiveThirtyEight said Monday that Democrats have an 86 percent chance of winning the House next month.

Pelosi has led House Democrats since 2003, the longest stretch since the legendary Rep. Sam Rayburn (Texas) died in office in 1961. In that time, she’s made history by becoming the nation’s first female Speaker while championing some of the most significant legislation of the last half-century, including the Affordable Care Act.

Yet, Pelosi’s longevity has increasingly exasperated newer lawmakers who want to wield more power within the caucus. Addressing those concerns, she has suggested in recent days that she has no plans to mimic Rayburn’s exit strategy.

“I have things to do. Books to write; places to go; grandchildren, first and foremost, to love,” she told the Los Angeles Times last week, marking the first time she’s referred to herself as “a transitional figure.”

On Monday, Pelosi said she’s confident she’ll have the necessary support to retake the Speaker’s gavel if Democrats win the House, touting her accomplishments as “a great legislator” and “astute” political operator.

“None of us is indispensable, but some of us have something to offer that is appropriate for the time, and I think I’m that person,” she said during a CNN forum.

Pelosi also reiterated her wish to be an intermediary to the next generation of party leaders, saying she would have already retired if Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFrustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' Poll: Nearly half of Clinton's former supporters back Biden Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE had won the White House in 2016. But she declined to put a timeline on her forecasted departure.

“I’m not going to make myself a lame duck,” she said. “We’ll see what happens in the presidential.”

Pelosi’s promise to be a provisional Speaker echoes the message coming from her top lieutenants — Reps. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerSteyer plans impeachment push targeting Democrats over recess The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Pelosi faces tipping point on Trump impeachment MORE (Md.) and James Clyburn (S.C.) — who have both expressed interest in being a “bridge” or “transitional” leader if Pelosi were to step down. Like Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn are approaching 80 and have been in the top seats of power for more than a decade.

Pelosi, by essentially adopting their language, is sending a subtle message to Hoyer and Clyburn: I'll be the bridge to the next generation.

It's a message already receiving pushback in some quarters of the caucus.

“It’s time for new leadership, and that has to happen [in January] or else we’re going to lose the majority that we’ll hopefully have,” said Rep. Kurt SchraderWalter (Kurt) Kurt SchraderDems walk Trump trade tightrope Lobbying World Congress can finally ensure horses are not tortured for ribbons and prizes MORE (D-Ore.), who told The Hill he wasn’t satisfied by Pelosi’s “transitional” offer.

“She should have done that a long time ago. That’s not gonna cut the mustard,” he added. “She will say anything to stay in leadership at this point.”

Pelosi’s comments come just two weeks before the Nov. 6 midterm elections, where Democrats are hoping anti-Trump fervor and women energized by the “Me Too” movement will help power a blue wave in the House.

So far, there is no clear rival to challenge Pelosi for the top spot, despite a small group of frustrated members that has been agitating for a shakeup among the party’s entrenched leadership.

Even some of Pelosi’s critics acknowledge that they need a seasoned veteran to help guide them through the rest of Trump’s term.

Democrats who have called for fresh leadership also say it would be smart to have Pelosi take the reins while the conference has a healthy and lengthy debate about their future leaders.

“I don’t think asking the next leader to spend a few years earning the trust of colleagues and demonstrating leadership is unreasonable,” Khanna, the Bay Area congressman, said. “It makes sense to spend the next term showing the caucus what they have.”

Still, the gavel is far from guaranteed for Pelosi. Several dozen Democratic candidates — most vying in tough, battleground districts — have vowed to oppose Pelosi for Speaker if voters send them to Washington. Some of Pelosi’s traditional backers are even looking for fresh assurances that a newly empowered Speaker Pelosi would spread power more widely throughout the caucus.

“I’ve supported Nancy, but I kind of feel like she takes support from a number of us kind of for granted,” said Connolly, adding that they get “kind of overlooked and looked through when it comes time for tapping talent for assignments.”

“I believe if Nancy wants her votes, she can’t count on them just as being automatic, as she has in the past,” he continued. “I think she’s going to have to have a message to those people that’s reassuring.”