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House Democrats, even after reelecting Pelosi, see change coming

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi arrives on Capitol Hill Wednesday to hold a news conference after the caucus vote.Andrew Harnik/Associated press

WASHINGTON — Nancy Pelosi, who has led House Democrats since 2002, was reelected House minority leader Wednesday, though a growing number in her caucus, including some in Massachusetts, are openly dissenting.

In 2010, after Democrats lost their majority in the House during the midterm elections, 43 voted to remove Pelosi from her top post. On Wednesday, even after Democrats gained House seats on Election Day, 63 Democrats voted against Pelosi and for her challenger, Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio.

Among the Massachusetts lawmakers, Representatives Seth Moulton of Salem, Michael Capuano of Somerville, and Stephen Lynch of Boston voted for Ryan. The rest of the congressional delegation supported Pelosi.


Moulton, who announced his support for Ryan on Tuesday, said he was encouraged by the challenger’s final vote tally.

“Nancy Pelosi has been leader of this caucus for over 13 years. She had 13 years to get votes, to get support. Tim Ryan had two weeks during the Thanksgiving holiday,” Moulton said. “This is an incredibly strong showing that shows that it’s time for change within the caucus.”

Ryan ran against Pelosi with a platform that Democrats need to conduct more outreach to Midwestern, economically disenfranchised, and working-class Democrats. He and his supporters often make a distinction between social issues and economic ones, and he stressed that Democrats need to prioritize voters’ wallets.

Though his challenge was unsuccessful, Ryan said he’s confident that his 63 votes, about one-third of the Democratic caucus, send a strong message to Pelosi about discontent within the party. Ryan also did not rule out creating a separate wing of congressional Democrats, similar to the Freedom Caucus of Republicans, which could heap further pressure on Pelosi to placate his supporters.

“Having 63 other members agree with the message, the leadership now understands that there are other members who want to move in this direction,” Ryan said. “At the end of the day, we have to figure out how to win. I tried to add to that conversation.”


During an afternoon press conference, Pelosi appeared upbeat. She had just experienced a significant caucus rebuke and fault lines were emerging among her flock, yet she ignored all questions about the defections and instead chose to highlight her support.

“I have always said, for anyone paying attention, that I would have two-thirds [of the vote],” Pelosi said. “I frankly feel more liberated than I ever have after such a hard-charging campaign.”

Previously, several lawmakers in the Massachusetts delegation, including Representatives Joseph Kennedy III, Katherine Clark, and Jim McGovern, said they had never entertained voting for anyone outside of Pelosi.

Richard Neal, the congressman from Springfield who supported Pelosi, said he believes Democrats will now recalibrate around a message of job growth.

“There’s a broad acknowledgment that we’ve had four difficult election cycles in the House,” Neal said. “And when you consider the map, you have to see the challenges. We have to be more competitive in the Rust Belt.”

In Pelosi’s press conference, House Democrats also announced that Representative Linda Sanchez of California will serve as vice chairwoman of the Democratic Caucus. Sanchez, according to Pelosi, is the first nonwhite woman to be elected to a House leadership position.

Sanchez, 47, also represents a more youthful voice among the Democratic top brass, compared with Pelosi and her longtime counterparts, most of whom are age 75 and older.


“We have a lot of work to do,” Sanchez said, flanked by the lawmakers. “Our primary focus will be America’s working families.”

To secure her reelection, Pelosi promised to give more power to junior representatives, which could rile older members used to the rigid seniority structure.

Also, Ryan’s challenge has emboldened some of Pelosi’s harshest critics, who say the party has fallen into the hands of coastal liberals — more concerned with emphasizing issues of race, gender, and identity than ones that squarely center on voters’ pocketbooks.

“While Democrats have rightfully championed causes for the oppressed in our society, we have, of late, ignored the economic struggles of average American families that could unify us all in a larger cause and a shared destiny for all Americans,” Lynch said. “This last election was an epic failure and another lost opportunity.”

Representative Marcia Fudge, who supported her fellow Buckeye, said Ryan “didn’t lose,” but forced congressional leadership to hear more rank-and-file voices, especially across America’s Rust Belt.

Kurt Schrader of Oregon, another Ryan supporter, said he has no confidence that Pelosi is capable of shepherding the necessary changes for the party.

“Nothing is going to change anytime soon; we’re going to be in the minority for the next 15 years,” Schrader said. “The caucus is coming to grips with that. No matter the best efforts of this particular leadership, we have not come to understand working America.”

Meanwhile, Neal, a senior member of the influential House Ways and Means Committee, has announced his intention to attempt to succeed outgoing Representative Sandy Levin and become the committee’s ranking Democratic member. He will face a strong challenge from fellow Democratic Congressman Xavier Becerra of California, who was endorsed by Levin.


According to sources within the delegation, Levin’s swift endorsement took Neal by surprise, considering that most rank-and-file members had not been notified that Levin was stepping down.

Regardless, the vote to succeed the 85-year-old Levin will take place in the coming week, and Neal said he is confident he can overcome these challenges.

As of Wednesday evening, Neal said he had already spoken to 75 caucus members about his candidacy, and believed he had the support the Democratic Party leadership.

Astead W. Herndon can be reached at astead.herndon@
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