U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would seek to remain leader of the chamber’s Democrats, rejecting calls to step aside after her party lost at least 60 seats and its House majority in midterm elections.
Pelosi’s announcement came in a letter yesterday to all House Democrats and a Twitter message to other followers. “Our work is far from finished,” Pelosi said in the letter.
A growing number of her colleagues argue that the California Democrat isn’t the right person to lead them after House Republicans scored their biggest gains since 1938. Still, one of those planning to vote against her said Pelosi probably has the support to win the job of minority leader.
“The caucus lost a majority of the moderates and the conservatives who as a group would have voted against her,” said Representative Jason Altmire, a Pennsylvania Democrat. “The outcome is not in doubt, but I don’t plan to vote for her.”
Pennsylvania was among the states where Democrats suffered their most extensive defeats in the Nov. 2 vote, losing five House seats, a U.S. Senate seat and the governorship that they had held.
Pelosi’s decision may set up a contest for Democratic whip -- which will be the party’s No. 2 post in the reconfigured House -- between her one-time rival, Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, and Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina. Under Pelosi’s speakership, Hoyer has served as majority leader, the second-in-command, while Clyburn has been whip.
Clyburn said yesterday he would run to retain his job. Hoyer said in a statement he will decide over the next several days whether to run for whip.
President Barack Obama and his aides will steer clear of the leadership battles, at least publicly. “The White House does not comment or get involved in leadership elections, but as the president has said before he appreciates the work of the speaker and the entire House Democratic leadership team who have been great partners in moving the country forward,” Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said in a statement.
The calls for Pelosi to let someone else guide House Democrats were building just hours before she first disclosed her decision to do otherwise in a message on Twitter.com. She said she was running to protect the health-care overhaul and other legislative achievements by the Democratic-controlled Congress.
With opponents “going public,” Pelosi “had to shut it down” so she made the announcement of her candidacy, Ronald Peters, political scientist at the University of Oklahoma, said in an e-mail. “She no doubt has the votes. Some conservative will run against her to give them a place to park.”
No Opponent Yet
So far, no opponent has emerged amid the discontent expressed by some Democrats about Pelosi staying as their leader.
Altmire said he will oppose Pelosi’s bid because having her as minority leader would be sending the message that “we’re going to keep doing exactly what we were doing” before Democrats “got crushed” in the elections.
Indiana Democrat Joe Donnelly, who held onto his House seat by one percentage point in the elections, said in a statement he was “disappointed” by Pelosi’s decision because “we need a change in leadership to reflect the desires of millions of people who cast votes.” Donnelly said he won’t support Pelosi.
‘Shake Things Up’
“We need to shake things up,” Representative Jim Matheson, a Utah Democrat and co-chairman of the fiscally conservative House Blue Dog Coalition, said in an Oct. 4 interview.
Representative Heath Shuler, a North Carolina Democrat, said the party’s losses were too steep to keep Pelosi, 70, at the helm.
Hoyer, 71, announced he wouldn’t challenge Pelosi for the top job, a vote expected to take place shortly after lawmakers return to Washington next week for a lame-duck congressional session.
Hoyer said in a Twitter message that he’ll “spend the next few days getting” thoughts from other Democrats on whether to run for minority whip.
Hoyer is likely “counting votes before declaring” his candidacy, Peters said in his e-mail.
Clyburn, 70, in a letter to colleagues said “our caucus is at a crossroads.” Clyburn also said he was confident the party can rebuild “the coalition that carried Democrats” and President Barack Obama into office in 2008 and that “it will lead us on the road back to the majority in 2012.”
Republicans, who lost the House and Senate majorities in the 2006 elections, also picked up six Senate seats in this week’s vote, short of the 10 they needed for a majority.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, is in line to become House speaker when his party takes control of the chamber.
House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, a California Democrat and a close Pelosi ally, said in a statement that she “has accomplished more than any other speaker in history” and isn’t to blame for party losses. The economy is the cause, he said.
“The fact is, Nancy Pelosi is the single most effective member of Congress, period,” Miller said in a statement.
In her Twitter message, Pelosi said, “Driven by the urgency of creating jobs & protecting” such measures as the health-care overhaul and the stricter regulation of financial institutions that passed Congress earlier this year, “I am running for Dem Leader.”
She is leaving the speaker’s office with her favorability rating in tatters and the public divided over many of her legislative achievements. A recent Gallup tracking poll of 1,029 adults, conducted Oct. 14-17, found that just 29 percent viewed her favorably, her lowest approval number ever, and 56 percent had an unfavorable impression of her.
By contrast, a similar Gallup poll taken Jan. 5-7, 2007 -- the week she first held the gavel as speaker, her grandchildren at her side -- gave her a 44 percent favorable rating and 22 percent unfavorable.
Pelosi and Hoyer ran against one another for minority whip in 2001. Pelosi won that race, her initial rise into the leadership ranks.
The two later worked together when Pelosi rose to become minority leader in 2003, replacing Representative Dick Gephardt of Missouri when he stepped aside to run for president, and Hoyer served as whip. Yet when Democrats won the House in 2006, Pelosi worked to edge out Hoyer from the leadership team, endorsing Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania for majority leader.
Murtha, who died in February, lost to Hoyer in an embarrassing defeat for Pelosi that occurred the same day she was elevated to become the first female speaker in U.S. history.