WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS News / AP) — Fractious U.S. House Democrats feuded Tuesday over their leader’s refusal to step aside after massive election losses.
Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, who is poised to move from speaker to minority leader in the next Congress, got an earful from some rank-and-file colleagues who said the party must change leaders when it suffers the type of losses Democrats absorbed on Nov. 2.
During a meeting of the Democratic caucus, at least two Democratic lawmakers who lost their re-election bids this year specifically asked Pelosi not to follow through on her plan to remain as party leader.
U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd of Florida was particularly pointed in his remarks, according to people present, saying Pelosi is the wrong person to represent Democrats as they try to rebuild.
“She definitely hurts,” added U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., who lost his re-election bid this month when his Republican challenger ran on an anti-Pelosi campaign theme, portrayed her as a hardcore liberal hopelessly out of touch with middle American values.
Pelosi’s response was to point members of her caucus to her record and credentials. She stated that she led Democrats out of the political wilderness in 2006 and vowed to do it again.
Pelosi surprised political observers when she announced on Nov. 5 that she would run for minority leader in the new Congress. In the wake of what President Obama dubbed a “shellacking” in the midterm elections, many in Washington expected the liberal California Democrat to voluntarily leave the leadership.
But Pelosi, 70, has repeatedly 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.
U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina said that he would challenge Pelosi’s leadership bid. A member of the moderate to somewhat conservative “Blue Dog” coalition of Democrats that saw their numbers decimated in the midterms, he said he would be more effective than Pelosi in recruiting moderate Democrats to win back the seats lost this year.
Shuler said he knew that he would likely lose the election to Pelosi but wanted to make the case that, after a whopping defeat, it’s not wise “to go back and put the exact same leadership into place.”
But Pelosi said her leadership bid was “driven by the urgency of protecting health care reform, Wall Street reform, and Social Security and Medicare,” and an aide told CBS News that she is the Democrat most effective in raising the money necessary to get Democrats elected in 2012.
Roughly two dozen Democrats in the House have either opposed Pelosi’s bid or said they would prefer someone else, and two have pressed for postponement of the leadership elections set for Wednesday.
Others though have defended the liberal Pelosi, and even her toughest critics said she was likely to be elected as House Democratic leader in Wednesday’s closed-door elections.
Members who lost their re-election bids each got five minutes to address the closed caucus meeting Tuesday, accordng to people present. Staff were kicked out of the meeting shortly after it began so members were more comfortable speaking freely.
U.s. Rep. Brian Higgins of New York called the session cathartic. “It’s what the Democratic Party’s about,” he said. “There are ideological differences, there are regional differences, and it was a good thing for people to be able to talk through that.”
As for Pelosi, she pronounced Tuesday’s long session “wonderful,” then hurried past reporters.
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