Rep. Ryan Gives Himself Thurs. Deadline to Challenge Pelosi

Rep. Ryan Gives Himself Thurs. Deadline to Challenge Pelosi
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Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan hasn’t decided whether he will challenge Nancy Pelosi as House Democrats’ leader, but he said in an interview Wednesday night that if someone were to make such a move, it would have to come in the next 24 hours.

That would mean he’d have to make a decision to take on the powerful, longtime leader by Thursday.

“Somebody’s got to make a decision, I would think, in the next 24 hours or so if they want to have a realistic shot at winning,” Ryan told RealClearPolitics.

There have been consistent rumblings among some House Democrats since their poor performance in last week’s election left Republicans in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress. In particular, some of the caucus’ younger members are frustrated with the messaging and outreach effort by the party and are clamoring for change.

Ryan, a seven-term lawmaker, has been talking with some of the disgruntled members this week, including those who successfully pushed Pelosi to delay leadership elections until after the Thanksgiving holiday. But he has yet to arrive at a decision.

He said the goal should be winning back control of the House and called 2018 a “key moment” because Republicans have unified control of the federal government. To be successful, however, Ryan said Democrats would need a leader who can speak to working-class voters, who previously were reliable Democrats but supported Donald Trump in significant numbers.

“This decision really is very big not just for our caucus, but also for the fact that the Obamas are gone, the Bidens are gone, the Clintons are gone, Harry Reid’s gone, there’s no one at the [Democratic National Committee] and we have a leadership election at the House,” Ryan said. “This is a big decision as to what the Democratic Party stands for and what the message is and who is the messenger to go into these areas.”

Pelosi, for her part, seems confident she has the support of most Democrats to stay on as the leader, a post she has held for more than a decade – both as minority leader and for four years as the first female speaker of the House. In a letter to her colleagues on Wednesday formally announcing her bid, she said she had the support of two-thirds of House Democrats.

“To be a strong voice for hard-working families and to uphold the values we cherish as Americans, House Democrats must be unified, strategic and unwavering,” Pelosi wrote. “These qualities took us to victory in 2006 and I believe they will do so again. We must start now!”

Some of the Democrats who are angling for change, however, were not confident that Pelosi would actually have the two-thirds support she claimed in the letter.

“I haven't seen her list,” said Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, who helped write a letter earlier this week pushing Pelosi to delay leadership elections. “But she said that the overwhelming view of the caucus was to hold elections on Thursday, and obviously that was not the overwhelming view.” 

Pelosi does have key allies. Earlier this week, a group of 50 House Democratic women wrote a letter to Pelosi saying that her leadership was needed to “guide us through the years ahead.”

Ryan might not be the only option when it comes to a Pelosi challenge, however. The Hill reported Wednesday that a small group of Democrats are aiming to recruit New York Rep. Joe Crowley – who is poised to take over as Democratic caucus chairman, a lower leadership position – to run against her.

Should Ryan choose to run for leader, one of his main arguments would be his ability to connect with the working-class voters that helped Trump win a number of Midwestern states President Obama carried twice. His district surrounds Youngstown, Ohio, a steel city that has seen economic decline and where Trump was much more competitive than previous Republican nominees.

But not everyone agreed that his geography and outreach to working-class voters would make him an effective leader. Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell, who complained in an op-ed last week that she warned Democrats Hillary Clinton was in trouble in her state, to no effect, was one of the women who signed the letter backing Pelosi.

Ryan is “like me – he gets it in his gut,” Dingell said of the Ohio Democrat. “If you’re living where we’re living, we get in our gut the voter we’ve got to bring back. But it also takes a lot of seasoning to be able to bring a real disparate group of people together in the caucus. … [Pelosi is] one of the few people that can bring the disparate group together."

Ryan, however, said it wasn’t clear Pelosi would be the right messenger to reach disaffected voters. He admitted that she is “very, very good” at raising money – the California lawmaker raised more than $141 million for Democrats this cycle. But he brushed off the argument that her fundraising prowess would be a significant advantage by saying that if Democrats’ problem was fundraising, “Hillary would be president and we would be in the majority right now.”

“The question is not only the message, which I think everyone is starting to come along a little bit on the message, but the question really is who’s the best messenger to make it happen,” Ryan told RCP.  “Those are the conversations that are happening. The question is … who is the best person? Is it her or is it somebody else? That is to be determined.”

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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