WASHINGTON (AP) — Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan said Thursday he will challenge Rep. Nancy Pelosi as House minority leader, shaking up the Democratic leadership race after the party’s electoral shellacking.
“What we are doing right now is not working,” the 43-year-old Ryan said in a letter. “Under our current leadership, Democrats have been reduced to our smallest congressional minority since 1929. This should indicate to all of us that keeping our leadership team completely unchanged will simply lead to more disappointment in future elections.”
Pelosi, well-known for her ability to count votes, said in announcing her candidacy on Wednesday that she has the backing of two-thirds of the caucus. Ryan dismissed that claim as disgruntled Democrats clamor for change after losing the White House and remaining in the minority in the House and Senate with minimal gains.
The election is slated for Nov. 30. It marks the second time Pelosi has faced a challenge after a dismal Democratic performance in an election.
In a closed-door session earlier Thursday, Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., said she told her colleagues that “if we don’t, as a party, have our leaders accept responsibility for where we are, we can’t move forward and get to the point where our message is going to resonate with voters.”
Pelosi, 76, is a survivor who enjoys enormous respect and goodwill among most Democrats, even as many of her closest allies have left Congress. She has managed to maintain unity within the diverse flock of House Democrats and is an unparalleled fundraiser for them, collecting more than $100 million in the past cycle alone.
She was crucial in ensuring President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul became law in 2010. Even in the minority under Obama, Pelosi has been a savvy negotiator with GOP leaders when Democratic votes were needed to advance legislation.
The first female speaker of the House, Pelosi has led House Democrats since 2002.
“When somebody challenges you, your supporters turn out, both internally in the caucus and in the country,” Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference.
Some Democratic lawmakers expressed their frustration in the closed-door session, and some grew angrier after Pelosi left the room to hold her weekly news conference, according to those who attended the session and spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the session.
Among the frustrations for junior Democrats is that several top Democrats on powerful committees have been atop their posts for many years – well into their 80s in some cases – and are not some of the party’s most vibrant voices. For instance, the top Democrat on the panel responsible for taxes and the Affordable Care Act is 85-year-old Michigan Rep. Sander Levin, while the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee is John Conyers, 87, who’s been in Congress for more than 50 years.
“We’ve got a couple of big issues coming up, not the least of which is defending the very strong parts of the Affordable Care Act,” said Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., a rival of Levin’s on the powerful panel.
Some Democrats are pressing for term limits for committee chairmen. Pelosi didn’t dismiss the idea.
“If you want that, you have to fight for it,’ Pelosi said.
In the meeting, Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., said he issued a challenge in the caucus “that anybody who is running for any position of leadership needs to come back and explain to us how we’re going to be able to survive one, the Trump years, but two, to not have the same excuse we have every two years where there’s some external factor that somehow causes us to not gain the seats that we need.”
The elections had been scheduled for Thursday but were postponed until after Thanksgiving.
On the budget front, House Republican leaders said President-elect Donald Trump wants a short-term spending bill to keep the government running through March of next year.
The current stopgap spending bill runs out in less than a month, on Dec. 9. House and Senate negotiators are working on a bill they could pass before leaving for the holidays.
House Republicans met Thursday behind closed doors with Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Speaker Paul Ryan told them the new administration prefers a four-month extension of spending.
Such a move would let the Republican-controlled government boost military spending next year while trying to cut domestic programs, but it would require cooperation from Democrats in the Senate.