John Conyers To Step Aside As Top Democrat On House ...

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If Democrats somehow fail to flip the House in November, rank-and-file members in increasing numbers say they are going to clean shop, demanding House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and other party leaders step aside.

Democrats are heavily favored to win back the House in the 2018 midterms but anything can happen in 11 months. And even if Democrats manage to win the 24 seats needed to secure the majority, there’s a growing chorus of members who want to see change at the top.

“Win or lose we have to have the change,” said Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., an outspoken critic of Democratic leadership.

“If we lose, everyone goes,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., one of the top Democratic leaders.

The targets: Pelosi, Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina. Pelosi has served as Democratic leader for 15 years, holding the speaker’s gavel for four of them. Steny Hoyer rose to the post of second-highest ranking Democrat in 2003. Jim Clyburn secured the No. 3 leadership spot in 2007.

Disgruntled rank-and-file members aren’t new. Pelosi has faced her fair share of challengers. Despite more members of her caucus than usual voting against her last cycle, she easily won re-election as leader. What’s new is President Trump and the entire political environment in Washington, which has many Democrats looking for more sweeping change.

“People are saying if we lose, if there’s not a majority, then we’re cleaning house — like everybody,” one House Democrat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

Last time the member even questioned Pelosi would be re-elected as leader after the 2018 midterms, the Democrat received a phone call from staff and they “bitched me out.”

Changes were made in the aftermath of 2016 to appease those upset with the lack of diversity at the top and the hold current leaders wield over coveted posts. The chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee became an elected position rather than one appointed by Pelosi and the Democratic policy and communications post was expanded to include three members, all of whom have served less than five terms. But Democrats are eager for more.

Many members tend to remain silent and keep their leadership gripes away from the media. But predictions aren’t limited to reliable Pelosi critics. Rep. John Yarmuth, a member of the Democratic leadership and a Pelosi ally, said he’s sensed an increasing appetite for new leadership among the caucus.

“Certainly the growing prospect that we could be in the majority has made people think about it a little differently,” the Kentucky Democrat said.

But if Democrats win and “Nancy wants to be speaker, she’ll be speaker,” Yarmuth added. “Some other people may have other ambitions.”

If they lose? “Nancy would probably say it’s time for somebody else,” he said, quickly adding, “I don’t base that on anything.”

With all three leaders holding on to their power for more than a decade, Rice and others say there’s increasing talk of the need for new people at the top, even if Democrats ride a wave into the majority.

“What I hope is that we can have robust debates and a lot of people throwing their hat in the ring because they can and they’re not precluded because they haven’t been here long enough or they’re not senior enough,” Rice said of a potential Pelosi challenger after the midterms.

If Democrats capture control of the House, Rice said, they’ll have 24 or more new members. “Many of whom on the campaign trail have said they’re not going to vote for the present leadership and that’s why they’re running,” she said.

Drew Hammill, spokesman for Pelosi, dismissed calls for current leadership to step aside as “pot shots.”

“This discussion by some members to further their individual political ambitions is not in furtherance of a Democratic majority,” Hammill said. “It is a complete distraction.”

Asked if Pelosi is takes the chatter seriously, Hammill said “the leader enjoys widespread support among the caucus.”

Hoyer said he’s focused on 2018 when asked about fresh calls for leaders to move aside. “My focus continues to be on taking back the House, a goal our entire caucus shares and is working tirelessly toward,” he said in an email.

Rice, and two-term Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., have made names for themselves in the last year as vocal opponents of Pelosi and the current leadership team. Moulton launched an effort after the 2016 election to build support for new leadership. When Democrats lost a June special election in Georgia, he made the media rounds. And when Pelosi came under fire for comments praising outgoing John Conyers of Michigan as an "icon" on “Meet the Press” as he faced sexual misconduct allegations that eventually led to his resignation from Congress, Moulton pointed to it as more evidence that Pelosi needs to go.

“That botched interview distracted attention from the tax bill for days and that’s not the leadership that we need on this issue, or frankly on any other issue right now in the House,” he said.

Others disagreed, defending Pelosi and voicing frustration with members who used leadership’s handling of sexual harassment allegations against Democrats to push their agenda. “That’s a question to be discussed on another day,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y. “With the stakes being as high as they are, and Trump posing an existential threat, why we would engage in a massive family feud is crazy.”

Moulton wouldn’t share details about who he’s urging to run against Pelosi, or if Hoyer and Clyburn should step aside as well. Hoyer has been floated as someone who can bridge the gap between the Pelosi-era and the next generation of leaders, possibly serving as Democratic leader for one term.

“There’s no question the momentum for leadership change is increasing not decreasing as time goes on,” Moulton said. “I have tremendous respect for our current leadership, but everywhere I go across the country they say it’s time for a change.”

Pressed on why he thinks Pelosi should step down — when she’s effectively outmaneuvered her Republican counterparts in many legislative showdowns, including in the Trump era — Moulton remained vague. Democrats “need vision” and to talk about the future and to “send a powerful Democratic message” that isn’t based solely on opposition to Trump, he said.

Others argue Pelosi should walk away after the midterms — win or lose — because of the negative political weight she carries. The formula for Republicans is the same in nearly every race regardless Pelosi’s involvement: Tie the Democratic candidate to the minority leader and her “San Francisco values.” That’s proof enough, some members said, that it’s time for new leadership.

“She has to know she’s an anchor around everyone’s neck,” said one House Democrat. “It’s political malpractice and the worst thing about it is she knows it.”

Another House Democrat admitted it’s “unfair” how Republicans have used Pelosi in campaigns, but said “Republicans have done a job on her.”

“They’ve made her a coastal liberal and made her into a villain,” the member said.

Any member saying Pelosi is an anchor, Hammill again chalked up to personal vendettas. He added that history is on Democrats’ side in 2018 because midterms are typically referendums on the party in power. “And who is in charge are the two most unpopular politicians in swing states and swing districts,” he quipped, referring to Republicans Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Speaker Paul Ryan or Wisconsin.

But the question remains who could rise to fill the posts occupied by Pelosi, Hoyer, and Clyburn. Rice and Moulton have both said they aren’t interested in running for a leadership position. Moulton is encouraging people his age, 39, or a little bit older to run.

The Washington Examiner spoke to more than a dozen House Democrats about who they think could lead the caucus, and there was no consensus. Some offered Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Joe Crowley of New York, currently the fourth-ranking Democrat. Others threw out Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, who challenged Pelosi last year and lost. Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who has been boosted by Pelosi and seen his profile rise as a ranking member of a committee pursuing the Trump-Russia investigation, is another possibility. Rep. Linda Sanchez of California, the vice chair of the caucus, is also in the running. She caused a stir last year when she said "it's time" for all three leaders to pass the torch to the next generation.

There is one area where leadership opponents and loyalists agree, however. A majority want a limit to the length of time a person can be chair of a committee or ranking member when in the minority. Democrats, unlike Republicans, have no cap on how many years someone can serve as the top Democrat on a committee. Changes in these high-profile positions tend to happen when an elder member decides to finally resign, or, as in the recent case of Conyers, is pushed out amid scandal.

“At some point the question of lock-step seniority needs to be put on the table ... as it relates to committees,” said one House Democrat, speaking on the condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the issue within the caucus.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. agreed. “If [members] really wanted to create opportunity they would look at people being on a committee, head of a committee or subcommittee, for the rest of their lives — that’s not healthy,” Eshoo said.

“We say that we’re the party of opportunity, except we’re not at all an opportunity party inside of our caucus,” she added.

But on the question of whether it’s time for Pelosi and her deputies to make way for new blood, Eshoo, a longtime Pelosi ally, scoffed at the members calling for it.

“For all of the talk inside of the caucus, that’s what it is, it’s talk. They don’t act on it,” she said. “They’re better at gossiping and whining than they are about doing anything to change 'the system.'”

If the top three decide to stay after 2018, Eshoo said, “they’ll be re-elected.”

“When you look at our nation’s history [Pelosi] was singularly the most productive speaker in the history of our country,” Eshoo continued. “She outstripped Sam Rayburn’s record. So if there is a shopping around for someone that is blessed with all of those capabilities they’re never going to find that person, they just don’t exist.”

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