Democrats are engaged in bitter recriminations over election losses and fighting over the direction of their party, but Rep. Nancy Pelosi retains an iron grip on her part of the party.
House Democrats on Wednesday renominated Mrs. Pelosi to be their chief and to serve another term as speaker. Nobody stepped up to challenge her.
She will still have to win a vote of the full House in January, but even that is shaping up to be easier than after the 2018 elections, when despite leading her party to massive gains, the San Francisco Democrat had to quell a rebellion among those in her caucus demanding new leadership.
“Nancy Pelosi is a legendary speaker. One of the best who’s ever done it — ever — in the history of the Republic. She certainly has my strong support,” said Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries
Despite losing seats in an election in which some in the party had talked of netting a dozen, House Democrats also returned Rep. Steny H. Hoyer as the party’s No. 2, and Rep. James Clyburn as its No. 3.
The three octogenarians — Mr. Hoyer is 81 and Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Clyburn are both 80 — have led House Democrats for 14 years, during which the party claimed the House majority in 2007, ceded control back in 2011, and regained it in 2019.
The consolidation of power at the top of the caucus has prompted criticism among both moderates and those trying to push the party further to the left.
“I think that raises some questions like, are we really trying to change? Do we want our leadership to just go unchanged for almost 20 years at a time?” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told The Washington Times.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, one of the party’s young stars, said Mrs. Pelosi has done well as speaker, but was also the only option Wednesday. Stagnation among the party’s leadership comes with a cost, the New York Democrat said.
“I think that there are very real reasons why very talented young members of our caucus leave the House. And it is because there’s kind of a perceived lack of upward mobility rather, you know, there are no term limits for committee chairs, for example,” she said.
One such member, Rep. Cedric Richmond, confirmed this week he will be leaving to join the Biden White House.
The leadership elections came two weeks after House Democrats saw their majority shrink on Nov. 3.
Moderates blamed liberal messaging, saying the party didn’t do enough to counter being tagged as anti-police or socialist, while Democrats on the left blamed poor campaign tactics and said the party didn’t fully embrace a liberal agenda that could have energized voters.
But few placed blame on Mrs. Pelosi.
Pressed by reporters this week on whether she shouldered the blame for a disappointing Election Day shoring, she said she deserved credit for Democrats holding the House.
She has already made history as the first woman to be speaker — the highest position a woman has attained in American government.
Mrs. Pelosi was elected to Congress in 1987 out of a San Francisco district and was elected to lead Democrats beginning in 2003 when she was firmly on the party’s left flank.
During her first go-around as speaker, she helped pass Obamacare and a major rewrite of banking rules after the 2008 Wall Street collapse. She led efforts to force action on climate change legislation.
But she’s also watched as her party changed. A large portion of her caucus now sits solidly to her left, politically.
Despite leading her party during the blue wave of 2018 — or perhaps because of the wave — Mrs. Pelosi faced resistance within from those members. More than a dozen House Democrats actively campaigned to thwart her bid to return as speaker.
Mrs. Pelosi, a master of power plays and Capitol Hill dealing, could not be kept off the podium, though she had to promise changes to House operations and make a term-limit pledge to quell the rebellion.
She said at the time she would serve no more than two more terms as speaker. She’s about to complete the first term and is aiming for the second term in January.
On Wednesday she reaffirmed that statement.
“If my husband is listening, don’t let me have to be more specific than that because we never expected to have another term now. I consider this a gift,” she said at a press conference following the elections. “I can’t wait to be working with Joe Biden and preparing us for our transition into the future. So I don’t want to undermine any leverage I may have, but I made the statement.”
Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist, said that term-limit agreement is likely why Mrs. Pelosi had such a smooth path to reelection this time around, liking any attempt to a “kamikaze run.”
“No one wants to take on Pelosi now,” he told The Washington Times. “Why bother when you have a much easier and clearer shot in two years.”
Besides, he said, Mrs. Pelosi is a “masterful politician” who balances the opposing factions in her party well and Democrats trust with navigating the House in an era of, potentially, divided government, as Republicans will have a sizable presence in both chambers even if they lose control of the Senate.
Democrats’ leadership elections were conducted virtually on Wednesday, due to coronavirus concerns. The voting will continue Thursday.
Democrats did have one contested race for the spot of assistant speaker, the No. 4 post in the caucus. Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts defeated Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island.
House Republicans held their leadership elections Tuesday, returning their top leaders, too.
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Democrats’ smaller majority creates new opportunities for the GOP to pursue its agenda.
“Republicans are always focused on putting the people first before politics and we will continue to do that work,” the California Republican said. “In this next Congress, we might not be able to schedule the floor, but we will run the floor.”