WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite suffering near-historic election losses this month, House Democrats moved closer Wednesday to keeping their leadership team intact, with Nancy Pelosi of California still on top.
Her allies predicted she would win overwhelmingly, particularly given the 129-68 vote to defeat an effort by Pelosi’s critics to postpone the vote until next month.
Both parties are holding closed-door House leadership elections Wednesday, with little controversy over who will lead the incoming Republican majority. The focus was on the fate of Pelosi, history’s first woman House speaker, who was dethroned two weeks ago by voters incensed over the Democrats’ handling of health care, the economy and more.
Democrats lost more than 60 seats to the Republicans, who were poised Wednesday to elect Ohio’s John Boehner as speaker when the new Congress convenes in January.
In meetings over two days, Democrats vented their frustration over the election results and Pelosi’s share of the blame. She rejected it, but appeared to soothe enough of her angry colleagues by Tuesday night to ensure her election to the top post.
Still, there were hard feelings among Democrats who believe that Pelosi is the wrong person to represent the party as it tries to rebuild in time for the 2012 elections. But others defended the San Francisco liberal, and even her toughest critics said she is likely to defeat Rep. Heath Shuler, a moderate from North Carolina.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., predicted that given the vote to proceed with the election Wednesday, Pelosi would win the top spot “overwhelmingly.”
Shuler told reporters he’s trying to make a point. After a whopping election defeat, he said, it’s not wise “to go back and put the exact same leadership into place.”
House Democrats appeared to iron out enough differences to prevent a revolt by black members who wanted Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., to claim the party’s second-ranking leadership post, called the whip.
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, a leader of moderate Democrats, will keep the No. 2 post, lawmakers said. Clyburn, the House’s highest-ranking black member, is in line to be elected to a new position called “assistant leader,” they said. Despite the new title, he will remain the House Democrats’ third-ranking leader.
President Barack Obama has invited congressional leaders of both parties to the White House, a postelection session expected this week but now put off until Nov. 30. The White House said Tuesday that Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell asked for the delay because of scheduling conflicts in organizing their caucuses.
Tuesday’s events offered scant evidence that Democrats, who often quarrel among themselves, will become more cohesive in the wake of their 60-seat House loss.
Shuler, for instance, showed no interest in mimicking the solidarity that House Republicans displayed during the past four years, when they voted unanimously or nearly unanimously against many high-profile initiatives by Democrats, including Obama.
“It’s very frustrating when I see everyone voting in bloc,” Shuler told reporters, because Americans are diverse and crave bipartisan solutions.
Republicans took a different tack after the 2006 election, which cost them the House majority they had held for 12 years. Within a day, then-Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said he would step down as party leader in the next Congress.
House Republicans soon coalesced around Boehner, and he persuaded them to consistently oppose Democrats despite what some people saw as anti-GOP rebukes from voters in 2006 and 2008.
Pelosi, 70, has refused to go down with the ship. She blamed this month’s Democratic losses on the bad economy, not on policy decisions by her party. She said there was no reason for her to step aside.
Many House liberals support her. But a number of rank-and-file Democrats, including some left of center, are dismayed. They note that dozens of Republican House candidates ran campaigns linking their Democratic opponents to Pelosi, who was portrayed as a hardcore liberal hopelessly out of touch with middle American values.
“She definitely hurts,” said Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., who lost his re-election bid this month. Citing former Republican House leader Tom DeLay, Taylor said in an interview: “When he realized he was a drag on leadership, he went away. Somehow the Democratic leadership didn’t learn that lesson.”
Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Ben Evans and Donna Cassata contributed to this report.