Nancy Pelosi Under Fire: Democrats Struggle with How to Handle Deeply Unpopular Leader in Midterms

U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (2nd R) speaks as Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) (R) listens during a meeting before the House Rules Committee about a bill to avert government shutdown December 21, 2017 at the Capitol in Washington, DC. Pelosi spoke on the Deferred Action for …
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Despite the embarrassing humiliation delivered in the public repudiation of her leadership by winning Democratic Congressional candidate Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania’s special election on Tuesday, 77-year-old U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi clings tenaciously to her party’s top position in the lower chamber of Congress.

Conor Lamb, however, may not be the only Democrat who loosens Pelosi’s grip on the reins of power permanently.

“Top Democrats tell me that if they take back the House in November, a restoration of Speaker Nancy Pelosi is no longer guaranteed. In fact, some well-wired House Democrats predict she will be forced aside after the election and replaced by a younger, less divisive Dem,” Mike Allen wrote at Axios on Thursday.

Politics in Washington D.C. remains, as always, driven by messaging, money, and numbers, and some of those numbers may no longer be adding up for Pelosi.

Twenty-three is the number that matters in the immediate aftermath of Lamb’s victory in Pennsylvania–that’s the net gain of House seats the Democrats need in November 2018 to retake the majority.

It has been long assumed that if the Democrats take back the House in the fall election, Pelosi, who served as Speaker from January 2007 to January 2011, and who has served as Minority Leader since January 2011, would automatically be selected by her colleagues as the new Speaker in the 116th Congress that convenes in January 2019.

But Conor Lamb’s announcement that he will not support her as party leader may have changed that.

“Dems point out the members and candidates can distance themselves from their leader for political reasons, but then ultimately vote for her,” Allen noted.

“She could win the caucus vote [for Speaker] easily but lose the floor vote,” an ally of Pelosi told Allen, adding:

“[I]f Dems win the majority by, say, a 10-vote majority, and 15 newly elected Dems have committed not to vote for her [like Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania] for leader of the party, … she could lose the floor vote for Speaker. That would give the House to the head of the Republicans.”

“She would never let that happen, and she would bow out to someone else.”

After Lamb’s win, Pelosi ” dodged reporters’ questions regarding whether Democrats running for Congress in 2018 should run against her leadership on Thursday,” NTK Network reported:

Democrat Conor Lamb, who won Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district special election on Tuesday, was successful in part because of a direct-to-camera ad in which he said he would not support Pelosi as leader of the House Democratic caucus.

A reporter asked Pelosi whether other Democrats should do the same thing.

“I don’t think that he ran against me the entire time. I think he ran on his positive agenda,” Pelosi responded. “It was a very issues-oriented campaign.”

“I just wanted him to win,” Pelosi said. “I don’t think that that had that much impact on the race. He won. If we hadn’t won, he might have a question, but we won. We won the race. The ‘D’ next to his name was very significant in those blue parts.”

Three special Congressional elections remain to be resolved. Two of them–Ohio–12 and Arizona-8–will be held before the November general election. The third, Michigan-13, will be held on the same day as the November general election.

The April 24 special election in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District to replace Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), who resigned in the midst of a scandal, pits Republican nominee Debbie Lesko against Democratic nominee Hiral Tipirneni in this district that is rated “Safe Republican.”

Arizona-8 has little in common with PA-18, and Democratic nominee Tipirneni appears to have more in common with Nancy Pelosi than with Conor Lamb.

“The area has not gone to a Democrat since 1980, though before the 2012 elections it was known as the 2nd District. The lines were redrawn when population growth gave Arizona an eighth seat in Congress,” Courthouse News reported in February, adding:

Tipirneni, an immigrant from India, found a love for science and medicine as a young girl and eventually received her medical degree from Northeast Ohio Medical University.

She is endorsed by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who survived a 2011 assassination attempt in Tucson that left six dead, and who represented the 8th District before it was redrawn.

Tipirneni wants to treat gun violence as a public health issue, supports reproductive rights, and hopes to reform immigration and veteran services.


“Arizona Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Lines called Lesko a shoo-in for the April election,” Courthouse News reported:

“I am confident that she will win the special election over whichever Nancy Pelosi Democrat emerges from the primary,” Lines said in an interview. “Debbie is an incredibly hard worker, she fights for her constituents, and never ever takes anything or anyone for granted.”

While Tipirneni seems unlikely to reject Pelosi as Lamb did, the eventual Democratic nominee in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, which has much more in common with PA-18, might be more likely to follow Lamb’s example.

“Ohio’s 12th Congressional District opened for the first time since 2000, after Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R) resigned to lead the Ohio Business Roundtable.The primary election will occur on May 8, 2018, the same day as the state’s regularly scheduled primaries, while the special general election will occur on August 7, 2018. The winner of this special election will serve for five months until January 2019, unless also elected in the regularly scheduled November general election,” Ballotpedia reported.

The political positioning of the winner of that May 8 Democratic primary in the run up to the August 7 special general election will indicate whether or not the Lamb strategy of repudiating Pelosi is likely to be followed by other Democratic candidates in the November 2018 general elections.

Those candidates who are likely to do so will probably come from Congressional Districts in those Blue states President Trump won in 2016–Pennsylvania (like Lamb), Michigan, Wisconsin–and swing states, like Ohio, that have similar characteristics.

Should 15 or so Democrats running in districts currently held by Republicans adopt the strategy of repudiating Nancy Pelosi, and should they be elected in an election that re-establishes a Democrat majority in the House of Representatives, the next obvious question will be this:

Will they honor their campaign promises and vote against Nancy Pelosi as speaker in January 2019?

The long history of broken political campaign promises on both sides of the aisle suggests the answer to that question may be one of the great unknowns of the 2018 midterm elections.


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