Dems Urge Pelosi to Delay Leadership Elections

Dems Urge Pelosi to Delay Leadership Elections
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A group of House Democrats, reeling from their party’s electoral losses last week, are pushing Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to delay leadership elections to  first plot a strategy for the new Congress in light of that failure.

“We just had a shellacking a week ago and it affects each member of the Democratic caucus,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “We need time to talk to each other and to figure out a path forward."

The elections were originally scheduled for Nov. 30, but after Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump last week – and Democrats gaining only six seats in the House despite higher expectations – Pelosi informed her conference in a letter that internal elections were moved up to Thursday, before lawmakers leave town for the Thanksgiving holiday. Butterfield said he spoke with Pelosi over the weekend to encourage her to delay the elections, which include her position and those of Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn of South Carolina.

Her argument, Butterfield said, was that a quick election would bring certainty to the party as it regroups, let members know what their committee assignments would be, and allow them to begin quickly plotting strategy for the next Congress. But Butterfield said he is unconvinced that is the best approach. He added that he’s talked to nearly 10 members of the black caucus, and half a dozen members outside of it, who agree with him on the need for a delay. 

Additionally, a group of nearly three dozen Democrats signed a letter to Pelosi urging a delay until after Thanksgiving. Rep. Ruben Gallego, a vice chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said they circulated the letter to all Democratic offices Monday night hoping for additional signatures, and plan to argue their case during the conference’s weekly meeting Tuesday morning. It would take two-thirds of the 186-member caucus to switch the vote, Gallego said.

Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia said he favors delaying the elections, but cautioned that shouldn’t be read as a sign he doesn’t support Pelosi.

“Not everybody who’s calling for a decent interval to digest what happened and reflect on it, discuss a strategy moving forward, it’s not the same as saying therefore I want new leadership,” Connolly said. “They’re two different things.”

No Democrat has announced a challenge to Pelosi outright, although Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan has not ruled one out. Michael Zetts, a spokesman for Ryan, said the congressman has “the highest respect” for Pelosi and considers her a “friend and mentor,” but that he is considering a bid for leadership. Ryan sent a personal note to Pelosi asking her to delay the elections. 

“Congressman Ryan has never had the ambition to run for leader, but after last week’s election results and the conversations he has had with his colleagues, he is open to the idea,” Zetts said. “He is flattered that a growing number of members of the Democratic caucus have called on him to run for leader. He understands that many members are deeply concerned about the future of the Democratic Party and caucus. He watched many traditional Democrats leave our party and he is concerned that if changes aren't made we will be in the political wilderness for many years to come.”

Some Democrats, however, pushed back at the idea of a delay. Rep. Steve Israel of New York, who currently serves in leadership but will retire from Congress at the end of this year, said he thought it would be a mistake to have an intra-party fight immediately following the election.  

“I don’t think we can afford to have two weeks of headlines about how we’re disorganized,” Israel said. “We need two weeks of headlines about how we’re fighting Donald Trump."

He added that he thinks the members who are pushing for a delay could find a way to work with the current leadership team to avoid a fight while still ensuring that their voices and concerns are heard. And he praised Ryan as an important member able to reach out to the working-class voters who helped tip the election to Trump, but said the Ohio Democrat could do so without creating a leadership fight.  

“I think Tim, who is a very good friend of mine … knows what people want. People in Youngstown and people in Scranton, they want a plan for their economic future. They don’t want us squabbling over who the leader of the Democratic caucus is."

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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