Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi has given no signs she’s headed for the exit, saying only that she’ll continue to serve as minority leader for the foreseeable future. | AP Photo



By Lauren French
01/20/16 – 05:14 AM EST

  • The party has talked about new blood at the leadership table, but changes don’t seem imminent.

A group of senior House Democrats is pushing for Nancy Pelosi to stay on as minority leader until 2018 — a nod to the California Democrat’s leadership and fundraising prowess, despite growing tension in the party around the need to elevate younger members.

The call for Pelosi to lead her party for three more years highlights the bind that Democrats are in: Few want her to leave the caucus’ top job, for fear of losing her name recognition and clout, even as there is near-universal recognition that Democrats want an expanded leadership table filled by newer voices.

“This is a place of healthy egos, and of course it’s natural for many members to get restless and want to move up quickly,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.). “But most of those members know that if Nancy Pelosi were to leave anytime soon, it would be a blow to our caucus. There would be a vacuum.”

Pelosi has given no signs she’s headed for the exit, saying only that she’ll continue to serve as minority leader for the foreseeable future.

Still, the caucus is grappling with the future makeup of its leadership. A push last year to scrap the tradition of giving top committee posts to the most senior members died after younger lawmakers advocating for change failed to build any real momentum in the caucus.

Some of the most prominent members of the current sophomore class are already plotting their exit from the House, leaving party leaders to try and develop a clear path forward so talented members don’t jump ship early on and deplete the Democrats’ bench.

“I cannot tell you how often among members I hear, even among [Congressional Black Caucus] and [Congressional Hispanic Caucus] members, that it is becoming frustrating to see that the younger members are not able to move up or visualize a move upward,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.).

But the black and Hispanic caucuses have been the most vocal opponents of reforming the seniority system, particularly after many minority lawmakers had to wait decades before taking their first committee gavels.

Cleaver added, “Nobody is saying why can’t we get Pelosi and [Minority Whip Steny] Hoyer and [Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra] and others to move on. Nobody is saying that. What they are saying is ‘I’m frustrated,’ and we have a lot of people in the beginnings of their career, and they think they have leadership ability.”

For senior House lawmakers like Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), who’s pushing for her to stay through 2018, Pelosi is the right captain. They argue there isn’t anyone in the party who could have navigated House Democrats through the past year of policy battles with as many wins as Pelosi.

The California Democrat did have a banner year even though her party is mired deep in the minority. She successfully lobbied Democrats to protect President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and scored substantial Democratic victories during a series of fiscal battles, including modest spending increases and environmental protections in the omnibus that passed the House in December.

Democrats are also largely reliant on Pelosi for her fundraising powers heading into 2016, when the bulk of the energy and money will be directed to the presidential race.

As of late fall, she had raised $32.7 million for House Democrats.

Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for Pelosi, said “Leader Pelosi has always said that she’s not here on shift, but on a mission.”

Some Democrats had expected Israel, who’s a close ally of Pelosi, to be a contender to move into leadership. But his surprise retirement announcement earlier this month has silenced that talk, even as party members continue speculating about potential replacements — an activity that’s become a favorite pastime in the House Democratic Caucus.

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