Nancy Pelosi announced Wednesday she is sticking around as House Democratic leader, extending her tight hold on a caucus that she has ruled for the last decade
Pelosi first revealed her decision in a private meeting with House Democrats, receiving a standing ovation from her colleagues, many of whom had privately lobbied her to stay on. She then made a public announcement, flanked by dozens of elected Democratic women.
"The message is clear from the American people," Pelosi told an excited Democratic Caucus, according to sources in the room. "They want us to work together to get things done. And that's what these folks are here to do. Just like all of you. We may not have the gavel, but as I can see in this room, we have the unity."
In a later press conference, Pelosi made it official. "I have made the decision to submit my name to my colleagues to once again serve as the House Democratic leader," Pelosi said.
"My colleagues made it very clear. In fact, I think they must have coordinated with each other. Their message was clear - don't even think of leaving," Pelosi asserted. "That was I got over and over and over again."
The decision by the California Democrat to stay on freezes in place the House Democratic leadership for another two years.
And the way she did it - the image of Pelosi surrounded by women after having taken a full week to make up her mind - is a clear message to everyone in the House: Pelosi is firmly in charge, and Democrats look very different from their GOP counterparts.
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn of South Carolina will hold onto their spots as the second- and third-highest-ranking House Democrats, while Rep. Xavier Becerra of California will take over as Democratic Caucus chairman. Becerra replaces Rep. John Larson (Conn.), who was term-limited out.
Pelosi told Democrats that part of the reason she is staying is to help guide the new Democrats who won election last week -- a caucus that for the first time in history has a majority of nonwhite men.
"This new class makes our caucus historic," Pelosi told her colleagues in private. "The first time in legislative history that a caucus will be a majority of women and minorities."
Pelosi's decision is also a blow to the 73-year-old Hoyer, whom Pelosi defeated in a bitter leadership battle in 2001. Since then, Hoyer has been forced to play second fiddle to Pelosi, with the California Democrat calling the shots inside the Democratic Caucus while Hoyer plays the role of loyal lieutenant. The two have formed a good working relationship during their time together both in the majority and minority, but relations between them have never reached the friendship level.
Hoyer was expected to replace Pelosi if she stepped down, a possibility that Republicans -- and some Democrats -- had privately been hoping would occur.
Now, with Pelosi remaining in her second floor office in the Capitol, Hoyer is not expected to get his shot at the brass ring -- becoming Democratic leader -- until the 114th Congress.
"I look forward to working with Leader Pelosi as we keep our Caucus united and continue our efforts to return to the majority," Hoyer said in a statement released by his office.
And Pelosi's decision will have a cascading effect down the Democratic ladder. Pelosi and Clyburn are 72, with Hoyer a year older. Their domination of Democratic leadership ranks during the past decade has put a lid on the aspirations of younger colleagues. With the triumvirate of Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn staying in place, lawmakers like Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) have nowhere to go.
Pelosi bristled at a reporter's question over her age - as well as that of Hoyer and Clyburn - and whether her decision to stay prevents Democrats from developing "fresh blood."
The California Democratic said she doubted it "was a legitimate question, although its quite offensive. You don't realize that, I guess."
"The fact is that everything I've done in my, I guess, decade of leadership, is to elect younger and newer people to the Congress," Pelosi added. "In my own personal experience, it was very important for me to elect young women...I wanted women to be here in greater numbers and an earlier age so that their seniority would start to [accrue] much sooner... I don't have any concern about that."
When Pelosi arrived in the House in 1987, succeeding the late Rep. Sala Burton (D-Calif.), there were only 24 other women in Congress -- and just two of them in the Senate. Ninety-four women serve in the current Congress with Pelosi, and the Senate will have a record 20 women next year.
And Pelosi, even after all these years, may be the most unifying politician in the House. Democrats still love her -- and cheered her decision. And Republicans love having her atop Democrat leadership, as she remains a perfect target for conservative interests.
"We're delighted that Nancy Pelosi has decided to stay on," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a longtime ally. "She's been the most effective speaker that I've ever served under, and she will, I think, bring us back to victory and give us a guidance to how to work to solve our nation's problems with the Republicans on a bipartisan basis, working with the president and following his leadership."
"The mandate of the election was to tax the rich and protect programs like Medicare and Social Security from benefit cuts," added Adam Green, co-founder of the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee. "Steny Hoyer would likely not have respected that mandate, but given her track record, we have high hopes for Nancy Pelosi. Today is a good day for progressive power."
Republicans celebrated too.
"There is no better person to preside over the most liberal House Democratic Caucus in history than the woman who is solely responsible for relegating it to a prolonged minority status," said Paul Lindsay, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "This decision signals that House Democrats have absolutely no interest in regaining the trust and confidence of the American people who took the speaker's gavel away from Nancy Pelosi in the first place."
The decision also means Pelosi will have a seat at the table as President Barack Obama and Congress try to avoid a "fiscal cliff" of hundreds of billions of dollars in tax increases and federal spending cuts set to kick in at year's end. Economists have warned that a failure by Congress to implement a deal to avoid that outcome could push the U.S. economy back into recession, as well as another downgrade of the nation's credit rating.
While Pelosi and Obama have nothing but praise for each other publicly, the relationship between the two in private is not close, according to Democratic insiders. The liberal Pelosi has refused to budge on any cuts to popular entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Yet Republicans insist that those programs must be on the table as part of a "grand bargain" to reduce the $1 trillion-plus annual federal deficit, and Obama has been willing to discuss such cuts as long as Republicans allow tax rates to rise for the wealthiest Americans. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have refused to back such a proposal, although they are open to increased government revenue via reform of the Tax Code.
In order to reach a broad budget agreement that can be supported by progressive Democrats like Pelosi, Obama is going to have to move very cautiously or risk alienating his party's liberal base. But Republicans don't consider Pelosi -- as only House minority leader -- to be a critical player in the upcoming budget negotiations.
Yet progressives inside the Democratic Caucus -- especially longtime Pelosi allies -- have been been publicly and privately begging her to stay in office. While many would support Hoyer as her replacement if she exited the congressional stage, Pelosi remains the irreplaceable figure for these lawmakers. Pelosi fights for their legislative and policy priorities and will refuse to support any agreement that she feels does not stick to progressive principles, even if Obama and Senate Democrats back such a deal.
In addition, Pelosi remains a hugely successful fundraiser for Democratic candidates and incumbents. Despite the minority status of House Democrats this cycle, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was able to outraise its GOP counterpart over 2011-12, a stunning achievement. Pelosi made hundreds of appearances at fundraisers throughout the two-year period, raising more than $85 million. While being a strong fundraiser himself, Hoyer would be hard-pressed to come close to this total, some Democrtatic strategists insist.
And House Democrats are likely to need to be financially competitive in 2014 if they are to hold onto their seven-plus seat gain this year. The president's party traditionally loses seats in midterm elections. That history, combined with GOP super PAC dominance -- more critical in a nonpresidential election -- means Democrats could find themselves hard-pressed to keep the roughly 200 seats they are expected to control in the next Congress.
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