iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — House Democrats will vote on several leadership positions this morning for the upcoming Congress, as the party licks its wounds and sets its sights on the future after a disappointing November election.
The party’s new leaders will be chosen in a private meeting using secret ballots Wednesday, after current leaders decided to to push back the voting amid rumblings from some members that a pause and possibly a new leadership could be good for their caucus.
Members will elect a new Democratic leader, caucus chair, whip, and caucus vice chair, though only the leader and vice chair positions are currently contested.
Current Caucus Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is expected to win her job back, but is facing a challenge from Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who argues that younger members with a vision for expanding the party’s economic message and geographical outreach is key to the party’s future electoral and legislative success.
Pelosi has led the House Democrats for 13 years. She was the first female speaker of the House, from 2007-2011, and she served as whip before then. In 2010, she defeated former Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., to keep her seat after a wave of Tea Party members cost her party the majority in the House.
Reps. Linda Sánchez and Barbara Lee are facing off for caucus vice chair (both women of color and from California). Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., running unopposed to keep his position as Democratic whip and Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., hopes to be caucus chair after having served as vice chair.
After the Nov. 8 election, about two dozen members signed a letter asking Pelosi to bump back the caucus’s leadership election. Even more grumbled that rushing into it looked tone deaf. Pelosi conceded that point, but was quick to announce that she enjoyed two-thirds of the cause support. She also rolled out endorsements from MoveOn and other progressive groups.
Ryan has said repeatedly that he thinks Pelosi is inflating her support. So far, 11 members have come out publicly to back him.
Just this week, Pelosi announced that she would include a representative from the freshmen class to serve as part of the House Democratic leadership, but she also renamed Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., to serve as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee again, despite the fact that Democrats only picked up six seats this go-around and many in the party suggested it should be an elected position.
Several staff and members on the Hill rolled their eyes at the move, as the position could have been potentially an easy place for Pelosi to signal she is willing to make some changes.
Earlier this month, Ryan told ABC News, “Donald Trump is the president, that is how bad we are out of touch, that the backbone of our party went and voted for Donald Trump, and I say that’s our fault.” He signaled a desire to reach out specifically to working class and blue collar voters specifically in the Rust Belt.
“This election is not going to be won at fundraisers on the coasts,” the Ohio Democrat told The Wall Street Journal last week. “It’s going to be won in union halls in the industrial Midwest and fish fries in the Midwest and the South.”
His staff has says he spent much of the Thanksgiving break making calls to his colleagues and that they believe it will be a close race.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., who is backing Ryan, wrote in a statement, “At this critical juncture, we face a choice – will we preserve a broken status quo or will we set our party on a new course?”
Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, one of the first to publicly back her Ohio colleague, echoed this feeling, writing, “I believe now is the right time for new leadership. As of January 2016, Democrats have experienced significant losses in the House and Senate, yet Members have been asked for little to no input to address the reasons for these losses … I know Tim to be a good listener, motivator and inclusive leader. He is open to new ideas and will listen to the concerns and suggestions of all Caucus members.”
The White House has not formally weighed in, but President Obama has continued to praise Pelosi since the election, saying last week: “I cannot speak highly enough of Nancy Pelosi. She combines strong, progressive values with just extraordinary political skill.”
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