WASHINGTON–Rep. John Larson won re-election as the head of the House Democratic caucus Wednesday, but the question of whether Rep. Rosa DeLauro would be able to keep her influential position remained unresolved.
All four top Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, retained leadership roles despite recriminations over the party’s Election Day trouncing. The caucus emerged from their nearly five-hour leadership elections–a secret-ballot contest that played out inside a cavernous House meeting room–pitching a message of unity, even as they gird for a demotion to the minority party in the next Congress.
“This is an experienced, diverse leadership team,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said after she was re-elected by a vote of 150-to-43. “We extend a hand of friendship to the Republicans … We will strive to work together to create jobs and reduce the deficit.”
Larson and others applauded Pelosi’s re-election, saying Democrats supported her because “they know her heart.”
Democrats put off a decision on whether Pelosi should be able to appoint key allies, including DeLauro, to lead a powerful House panel that doles out committee assignments to the rest of the caucus. That could be resolved as early as tomorrow.
Meanwhile, just what lessons Democrats will take from the election results, which thinned their ranks by 60-plus seats, is still unclear. Pelosi’s message since the Nov. 2 drubbing has been that she became the GOP’s No. 1 target simply because she was so effective at moving legislation and raising money.
Several Democrats expressed disappointment that they were not able to delay the leadership contests until they’d had more time to sort through the results and figure out how to rebuild.
“There is concern about how we got to this point and how we move forward,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. He noted that Democrats lost ground with several key constituencies, including women, seniors, and independents.
“We need to better understand that and we have to offer a vision to go forward,” he said. DeFazio was among those pushing for a delay in today’s vote, but that effort was defeated by a vote on 129 to 68.
Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, said the party didn’t necessarily need new faces to recover from the election, although he declined to say whether he voted for Pelosi.
“Ideas are more important than faces,” Himes said. “We need to see what ideas this team stands for in the face of a different situation than we were in two years ago.”
On that count, he said it was too early to give any assessment.
Many other Democrats agreed with Pelosi’s argument that she was targeted because she was a forceful leader and said today’s results were the first step toward gaining the majority back.
“Whoever was speaker was going to become a symbol of what people didn’t like about the Democratic” agenda, said Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District.
One key reason Pelosi was able to hold onto power: “Nancy Pelosi knows how to turn minorities into majorities,” said Murphy, who said he voted for Pelosi to remain as the House Democratic leader. Pelosi faced only nominal opposition from Rep. Heath Shuler, a conservative Democrat from North Carolina.
Murphy said Pelosi, Larson and others have signaled a willingness in recent days to cede the spotlight to younger lawmakers as their party seeks to recover and move forward.
“You will see some new faces and some new voices representing the caucus,” Murphy said. “It doesn’t need to be done through leadership positions.”
He and others said it’s too early to discuss what the Democrats’ message should or will be in the next Congress and how the election results should factor into a new agenda.
But one element was a no-brainer. “Jobs, jobs, jobs … That’s what people want to hear about,” Murphy said.
Several others said House Democrats needed to be more aggressive in separating themselves from the White House and the Senate, instead of accepting the agenda put forward by the president or adopting legislation they know will win passage in the more divided Senate.
Despite Wednesday’s marathon caucus meeting, at least one issue remains unresolved.
Several Democrats, realizing they would not be able to defeat Pelosi’s bid to stay on as minority leader, wanted to make the top posts on the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee elected, not appointed, as a way to curb Pelosi’s power.
DeLauro currently serves as co-chair of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, along with Rep. George Miller of California. Pelosi tapped DeLauro and Miller for that panel, which determines who gets what coveted committee slots.
“It’s a fair question about whether those should be elected,” said Jim Matheson, a conservative Democrat from Utah who is pushing the proposal. He said it would help “decentralize” power within the Democratic Caucus, adding: “I think a lot of people like that idea.”
Matheson’s proposal is likely to be resolved in the coming days. And some observers suggested that DeLauro would likely be able to hold onto the job, even if the Steering Committee chairmanship becomes an elected post.