House Democrats will hold their caucus leadership elections on Nov. 29 as speculation continues to swirl around whether Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will seek to return as the chamber’s top Democrat in the next Congress.
The date was announced on Wednesday afternoon during a wide-ranging telephonic conference call by Pelosi with rank-and-file members; those involved say she shed no new light on her own plans, but many expect she will seek to stay on as the top House Democrat. Other topics discussed included a briefing on the so-called fiscal cliff from Budget Committee top Democrat Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, an update by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York, and a presentation from pollster Stan Greenberg.
House Republicans have scheduled their closed-door leadership elections for the week of Nov. 11, when lawmakers will be back in Washington after Election Day for a lame-duck session. But there is less intrigue in the GOP leadership: The only competitive race involves the chairmanship of the Republican Conference — the No. 4 party post.
Rather, all eyes are on Pelosi. The 72-year-old San Francisco Democrat is likely to be returned by her colleagues as minority leader if she wants.
So far, Pelosi has refused to publicly declare whether she wants to stay on as the Democrats’ leader — or, if she does run again, how long she will stay. But Pelosi’s office has been quick to reiterate on several occasions what she has said in a television interview: If reelected, she will serve out her full House term.
Meanwhile, Democratic members and senior aides say they don’t see anyone with the political juice to challenge Pelosi for the top party spot if she does go for it, and that no one has publicly come forward saying they will try. Some say it also would not be wise for Democrats to chase away a leader with Pelosi’s star-powered fundraising prowess, especially with a base of liberal and female contributors.
There remains persistent talk, however, that Pelosi could be contemplating voluntarily stepping aside as minority leader, even if she plans to serve out her term as a lawmaker. One scenario described by several lawmakers and senior congressional aides has Pelosi wanting to be chosen again Nov. 29 as minority leader. Then, she would hang on to her top spot long enough to install a chosen successor, but not so long as to possibly become the GOP’s target again in the 2014 midterm elections.
But how this scenario would work — say, in terms of what role she might seek in a transfer of leadership power to either her No. 2, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, or someone else — is uncertain. So, too, is whether her caucus would go along with such a plan.
There could be some movement that impacts other rungs of the leadership ladder, as younger members might want to jump into contention. For instance, even if Hoyer sails into the top Democratic spot — and the current Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn of South Carolina moves up to whip — there could be a fight over his job. Among those seen as potential candidates for that No. 3 ranked post are current Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Rep. John Larson of Connecticut, who is losing his post as caucus chairman because of term limits.
Right now, the only Democratic leadership job definitely up for grabs is that of caucus vice chair. Reps. Joe Crowley of New York, Barbara Lee of California, and Jared Polis of Colorado are all asking colleagues for their support in getting that post.
The current vice chair, Rep. Xavier Becerra, who like Lee is also from California, is expected to move up to Larson’s caucus chairman post. Some Democrats say it is unlikely two Californians will be picked to be chair and vice chair.
House Republicans have fewer leadership intrigue possibilities, with Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California all expected to retain their top three conference posts.
There is a battle for the No. 4 post — that of conference chairman, now held by Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas. Seeking that job are the current vice chair, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, and Republican Policy Chairman Tom Price of Georgia. Hensarling is seen as moving to the chairmanship of the House Committee on Financial Services.
Senior House Democratic aides on Wednesday dismissed as “ridiculous” speculation that Democrats may be delaying their closed-door internal elections to possibly provide time for others to build their cases for top leader in the event that Pelosi chooses not to run again. Rather, they say the decision to hold the elections after Thanksgiving has been timed to the second week of orientation programs given newly elected members, who will formally take office in January and will participate in the leadership elections. Some details of the freshman orientation program were discussed in the conference call by House Administration Committee Ranking Member Robert Brady of Pennsylvania.
During Wednesday's conference call, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee top Democrat Elija Cummings of Maryland also discussed what he described as the disclosure by that committee’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., of sensitive “classified” documents relating to Libya.