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Dems divided over Pelosi's 'transitional' Speaker pitch

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiGraham backs bill to protect Mueller Clyburn says some critics are using race to oppose his leadership bid Congress can unite on global affairs 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.

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“The reality is, she herself has said she doesn’t want to do this forever,” freshman Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaOvernight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Trump's Armistice Day trip marked by controversy | US ends aerial refueling to Saudi coalition in Yemen | Analysts identify undeclared North Korean missile bases US to stop refueling Saudi planes in Yemen Nancy Pelosi starts working on her math problem in Speaker vote 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 ConnollyHigh stakes for Dems' green agenda in midterms Trump plans executive order to end birthright citizenship Dems divided over Pelosi's 'transitional' Speaker pitch MORE (D-Va.) delivered a similar assessment. The departure of would-be senior leaders like now-Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenVan Hollen not interested in staying on as chair of Senate Dems' campaign arm Senate GOP readies for leadership reshuffle Momentum builds for Dems to take on campaign finance reform MORE (Md.) and former Reps. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraAdvocates draw battle lines over national privacy law Overnight Energy: GM proposes electric car mandate | Deadline nears for EPA car rule comments | Greens change tactics to mobilize climate voters California won't enforce net neutrality law as DOJ halts lawsuit MORE (Calif.) and Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump heads to Paris as attorney general controversy intensifies Warren? Biden? Sanders? Dems have different answers on 2020 after 2018 House Democrats have power to stop mass shootings in America 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 VelaNancy Pelosi starts working on her math problem in Speaker vote Dems divided over Pelosi's 'transitional' Speaker pitch GOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia 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 ClintonOvernight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — First lady's office pushes for ouster of national security aide | Trump taps retired general as ambassador to Saudis | Mattis to visit border troops | Record number of female veterans to serve in Congress Election Countdown: Lawsuits fly in Florida recount fight | Nelson pushes to extend deadline | Judge says Georgia county violated Civil Rights Act | Biden, Sanders lead 2020 Dem field in poll | Bloomberg to decide on 2020 by February What midterm exit polls tell us about 2020 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 HoyerClyburn says some critics are using race to oppose his leadership bid New hurdle arises in Pelosi’s march to speakership 155 House Dems sign letter backing Hoyer as majority leader 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 Schrader14 House Dems vow to withhold Speaker votes over rule reforms Dems divided over Pelosi's 'transitional' Speaker pitch Dems reverse course on White House parks plan 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.”