Nancy Pelosi this week gave up on whether she wants to continue leading House Democrats after November, but her peers are divided on whether to let that happen.
In interviews with more than two dozen House Democrats, a consensus is emerging: If they lose the majority, there would be enormous pressure on Pelosi to go, Democratic sources said the powerful House speaker knows all too well.
But with polls and new momentum giving House Democrats some glimmers of optimism about the midterm elections, several members say they’re also beginning to see how, if in control, Pelosi could extend her time in power. However, Democrats are split on the prospect, with a large contingent eager for new leadership regardless of the outcome, though he would be a heavy favorite to hold onto the baton.
Pelosi agreed to a 2018 deal limiting her to four more years with dissident members because the speakership was an informal deal, and caucus rules were never changed to impose time limits on her tenure. Some members told CNN that if the midterms go well for their party, the combination of surprising euphoria and respect for its fundraising prowess and the importance of female voters may be reconsidering.
Several pointed out, however, that it could be a surprise victory to hold on to the majority Pelosi said she originally planned to do six years ago if Hillary Clinton won the presidency, and that a decision to stay should come. with a clear departure schedule.
Democrats are not on the same page on the sensitive issue.
“I support Pelosi,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar, a conservative Texas Democrat who credits Pelosi for helping her win the primary. “I will help him for any position.”
“I think if we win the House, it will be worth it — it’s as simple as that,” said Texas Democrat Representative Vicente Gonzalez.
But if they lose the majority?
“The dynamic changes,” Gonzalez said. “I think it changes the game.”
Other Democrats say it’s time for new leadership come November.
“It’s time for generational diversity in our leadership ranks, regardless of the outcome of the election,” said Representative Dean Phillips, a Minnesota Democrat who voted for Pelosi, calling her “one of the most extraordinary speakers in history.”
“That doesn’t change my view that it’s time for a new generation,” Phillips said, noting it’s a widely held view within the caucus.
In private, the assessment is usually more strict.
“He’s got to go,” said one senior Democrat. “There’s no way he can stay,” added the longtime House Democrat. “He doesn’t have the votes,” said another veteran Democrat, pointing to some weak front-line Democrats who have vowed not to vote for him.
In fact, all of this comes against the backdrop of deep tensions among House Democrats, and within their party as a whole, the lack of major changes in leadership. However, two of Pelosi’s deputies, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Leader Jim Clyburn, who, like the speaker, are in their mid-80s, have surprised colleagues by privately indicating they could be her successor if and when she leaves.
Not everyone agrees with that idea.
“I’ve certainly thought for a long time that it’s time for new leadership,” said Rep. Mikie Sherrill, a Democrat from a swing district in New Jersey who did not vote for Pelosi in last year’s speaker election. “He has done a great job, but we need to grow new leaders. When you have the first three people in our caucus who are 80 years old. … A new generation will come and begin to lead. And that’s what, I think, the Democratic Party shouldn’t be afraid of.”
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who has been critical of Pelosi in the past but has since cultivated a more collegial relationship and voted to elect her as speaker, said she expects to see changes in leadership after her term, but stopped short. short of calling the speaker to retire.
“I think that if we are in the minority, the desire for change will be wider, potentially within the party. But I think that desire is there,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “We saw and heard that desire in the last two terms that the Democrats were in the majority, so it’s just a matter of, not if the people want it, but how much?”
Rep. Andy Kim, a vulnerable Democrat from New Jersey, said if Pelosi were to try to remain leader, he believed she would go against the pledge she made in 2018, even if it wasn’t written in stone.
“I thought we had an agreement in terms of leadership and tenure,” Kim said when asked about the possibility of Pelosi staying on. “I understand where that’s going to go, I think: we’re sticking with what we’ve agreed on before.”
Several Democrats believe that Pelosi will almost certainly go and doesn’t want to completely close the door because she doesn’t want to look like a lame duck as she travels around the country raising massive amounts of money for her bailout. thin majority Also, after a productive legislative session (which saw the enactment of key issues on climate change, infrastructure and gun violence legislation) and a major visit to Taiwan amid tensions with China, many see his latest moves as the end of his historic career. House as the first female speaker.
“I feel very comfortable with what they’re proposing,” Pelosi said in 2018 after reaching a deal with dissident Democrats to limit her term as speaker to four more years. “And I feel very responsible about doing that, whether I pass or not.”
Term limits for three major Democratic leaders were never passed.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, long considered Pelosi’s successor, has had a busy schedule in person, on the phone and on Zoom calls in recent weeks, and will make another trip this weekend — to Iowa as a guest. The Democratic Party’s usual steak-fried fundraiser hosted by embattled Rep. Cindy Axne. Rep. Adam Schiff of California, a close ally of Pelosi, has been traveling the country and fundraising on behalf of colleagues as he considers a leadership position and meets with members about it.
But Hoyer, who has been courting Pelosi for decades, has privately indicated to allies that he would run for the top job if Pelosi is ousted, according to multiple Democratic sources.
Hoyer would not confirm or deny those conversations.
“I don’t think we’re ruling anything out,” Hoyer said. “We are focused on winning the elections.”
It has long been seen that Hoyer would quit when Pelosi did. And several younger members expressed confusion that the 83-year-old moderate would try to stand in the way of a generational shift in leadership, especially if it pits him against Jeffries, who is African-American and 30 years his junior.
Clyburn has privately expressed interest in making history as the first black speaker — though he told CNN last year that wasn’t in his plans — but he appears more willing than Hoyer to take on an emeritus-style leadership role rather than being at Jeffries. ‘the way That question would probably be settled internally first within the large and powerful Congressional Black Caucus.
“I haven’t made a decision,” Clyburn told CNN this week.
Pelosi has maintained her familiar dourness about Democrats’ prospects and their sense of purpose. At a press conference held on Wednesday, he looked at the assembled journalists and said: “Even if there are some among you who underestimate my political instincts and the rest, we have been given the majority twice. And I have no intention of giving up.”
When asked if he would seek another term as speaker, he declined to be entertained.
“No. I said before that we will win. And that is really the problem”, he said. “Are we speaking another language? First we win, then we decide.”
A source close to Pelosi believes the speaker has not yet decided what she might do if Democrats retain control of the House.
Drew Hammill, a spokesman for the speaker, offered a response when asked about speculation about his future: “The speaker is not on a shift. He is on a mission.”
However, to continue his mission, he may have to win over some dissidents.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, a vulnerable Democrat who has criticized House leadership in the past and has not backed Pelosi as speaker, said she would like to see a change in her caucus leadership after November.
“I’ve always felt we need new leadership,” Slotkin said. “I also understand that leaders don’t (no leaders I’ve ever worked with) say they’re going to leave because you lose all power long, long before you leave.”
Ultimately, though, many Democrats say it’s Pelosi’s call.
“If the Democrats retain control of the House in the 118th Congress, I will stand with Nancy Pelosi as long as she wants to be here,” said Hank Johnson, Democrat of Georgia. “I think that when he leaves he should be given the opportunity to resign with dignity. It will be his decision, I think.”