Nov 16, 2022 - Politics & Policy

House Dems' calm before the storm

Photo illustration of Nancy Pelosi raising a wooden question mark.

Photo illustration: Lindsey Bailey. Photos: Win McNamee, Tacos Katopodis/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) private deliberations on whether to run for minority leader have — for now — frozen a potentially ugly fight that could pull back the curtain on the party's ideological and generational divides.

Driving the news: Pelosi's longtime deputy, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), is keeping his options open regardless of her decision, Axios has learned. If Pelosi leaves but Hoyer tries to stay in leadership, there would be a cut-throat game of musical chairs, with only three leadership seats for four lawmakers.

  • A decision by Pelosi to stay will also cause consternation in the caucus, but the party's better-than-expected showing — and her reputation for clapping back at Republicans — gives her a strong case to stay for one more term.
  • Both President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have urged her to stay.

What we're hearing: Everyone is waiting on Pelosi, according to more than two dozen current and incoming House Democrats who spoke to Axios on Tuesday. Punchbowl News reports that she could announce her decision this week.

  • Hoyer has been calling members to congratulate them on their victories.
  • While he's careful not to ask for their support in any potential leadership contest, the calls serve as a reminder that the 83-year-old Hoyer is interested in the lawmakers' long-term future.

The intrigue: A younger generation of leaders — Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) — has been patiently waiting in the wings to replace the old trio of Pelosi, Hoyer and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.).

  • In interviews with Axios, Jeffries was the top choice for every member who openly declared a preference for Pelosi's replacement.
  • Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), a firm Jeffries backer if Pelosi steps down, said he “has the skill set that's necessary to lead the caucus, very similar to Nancy Pelosi.”
  • Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), who's been vocal about wanting new blood in leadership, went so far as to say Jeffries should run regardless of Pelosi’s decision.
  • Jeffries, for his part, dodged questions about leadership at a Tuesday press conference, telling reporters: "I think it's time to make sure that we finish the business of the American people over the next few weeks."

Between the lines: Clyburn is the easiest of the three current leaders to solve for. He has hinted he won't gun for one of the top three (official) positions and would be content with some sort of emeritus role.

  • Clyburn told reporters on Tuesday that he plans to "stay in leadership," though he said it "won't be" a top leadership position like the one he holds now.

Zoom in: When Hoyer called Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who won a close race, he was "just happy with the race I ran, thrilled with the outcome," Kildee told Axios. "Nothing about the future if that’s where you’re going."

  • Hoyer also called to congratulate Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.), who was not in a close general election contest. She also emphasized that Hoyer didn't talk about a potential leadership contest, but added: "We are absolutely in an interesting limbo right now."

The bottom line: Leadership elections are scheduled for Nov. 30, according to a source familiar with the plans.

  • If Pelosi does run, even younger moderates who want her to step aside acknowledge she'd likely win easily.
  • "She'd be running for minority leader, so that's a caucus vote which she will easily secure. She doesn't need my vote," said Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.).
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