Dems divided over Pelosi's 'transitional' Speaker pitch

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi, Schumer slam Trump executive orders, call for GOP to come back to negotiating table Trump signs executive orders after coronavirus relief talks falter Sunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief 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) KhannaSanders supporters launch six-figure ad campaign explaining why they're voting for Biden Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Progress slow on coronavirus bill 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 ConnollyUSAID appointee alleges 'rampant anti-Christian sentiment' at agency House committee requests hearing with postmaster general amid mail-in voting concerns GOP coronavirus bill includes .75 billion for construction of new FBI building MORE (D-Va.) delivered a similar assessment. The departure of would-be senior leaders like now-Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenExclusive: Democrats seek to increase racial diversity of pandemic relief oversight board Overnight Defense: Guardsman to testify Lafayette Square clearing was 'unprovoked escalation' | Dems push for controversial Pentagon nominee to withdraw | Watchdog says Pentagon not considering climate change risks to contractors Democrats urge controversial Pentagon policy nominee to withdraw MORE (Md.) and former Reps. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraCampaigns accuse California AG of slanted descriptions of ballot initiatives California sues Trump administration to mandate undocumented immigrants are counted for apportionment OVERNIGHT ENERGY: 20 states sue over Trump rule limiting states from blocking pipeline projects | House Democrats add 'forever chemicals' provisions to defense bill after spiking big amendment | Lawmakers seek extension for tribes to spend stimulus money MORE (Calif.) and Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden closes in on vice presidential pick The Hill's Campaign Report: Colorado, Utah primary results bring upsets, intrigue The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - As virus concerns grow, can it get worse for Trump? 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 VelaHispanic Caucus asks for Department of Labor meeting on COVID in meatpacking plants The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden builds big lead in battleground Florida Texas Democrat proposes COVID-19 victims' compensation fund 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 ClintonBlumenthal calls for declassification of materials detailing Russian threat to US elections Hillary Clinton roasts NYT's Maureen Dowd over column Hillary Clinton touts student suspended over crowded hallway photo: 'John Lewis would be proud' 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 HoyerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Negotiators 'far apart' as talks yield little ahead of deadline On The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Overnight Health Care: Ohio governor tests positive for COVID-19 ahead of Trump's visit | US shows signs of coronavirus peak, but difficult days lie ahead | Trump: COVID-19 vaccine may be ready 'right around' Election Day 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 SchraderHouse members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes The 14 Democrats who broke with their party on coronavirus relief vote House votes to condemn Trump Medicaid block grant policy 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.”