On Wednesday, during a closed-door caucus, Democratic lawmakers met to select their leadership for the coming term. Veteran Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who has served as the party’s top Democrat since 2003, faced off against challenger Tim Ryan, D-Ohio. The party ultimately chose to reelect Pelosi as House minority leader by a margin of 134–63.
Republicans, who normally distress over any Pelosi victory, reveled in their good fortune.
“What a relief. I was worried they had learned from the elections and might be competitive and cohesive again,” tweeted Kellyanne Conway, President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign manager.
On Election Day, Democrats flipped only six seats in the House, instead of the hoped for 15 or 20. This shrank Democratic representation in the House to the slimmest margin since 1929. With 240 Republicans to their 194, Democrats now face an even steeper uphill battle when trying to pass any new legislation.
Many disgruntled Democrats, upset by the unexpected losses of Nov. 8, came forward to support Ryan in his bid to reinvigorate party leadership. Approximately one-third of House Democrats voted for Ryan.
Ryan sees Trump’s win as an unmistakable message to legislators. He believes working-class Americans essentially “flipped their middle finger to the establishment.”
“We are in denial of what’s happened, and I’m pulling the fire alarm because the house is burning down,” he said.
Ryan supporters complained that mostly older members currently fill the top posts in the House, which leaves little room for the advancement of younger members. Pelosi is 76 years old, and many key committees have legislators in their eighties as chairs. Ryan, on the other hand, is 43.
Although a talented tactician and fundraiser, Pelosi epitomizes the typical Democratic politico. She also represents an ultra-liberal portion of the Democratic party. The 12th District of California includes North Beach and the Mission District, two of San Francisco’s most liberal neighborhoods. Ryan believes this keeps her out of touch with the Democratic blue collar workers from manufacturing centers, like Youngstown and Akron, Ohio — both of which are in his district.
As a Midwesterner, Ryan recognized that Democrats in the cornfields of “flyover country” felt forgotten. In this election, these faithful Democrats cast aside their traditional party affiliation. Instead, they chose to crash through the “blue wall” in silent uprising against the failed American economy.
Ryan, like many other House members, blame the Democratic Party for failing to reach these voters.
Ryan’s supporters know reconnecting with these cross-over voters will call for major adjustments in their party’s direction. They don’t anticipate this sea change coming from Pelosi. In recent years, she’s fumbled handling some key Democratic legislation, and has alienated both colleagues and the public.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., was “deeply disappointed” in her fellow Democrats. She saw this vote as clinging to “failed strategy” instead of embracing Ryan’s vision of the “Democratic Party 2.0.”
Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, however, insisted that Ryan’s challenge to Pelosi’s power made a difference. She believes the leadership team will listen more. Pelosi did make some small changes to mollify her opponents, including bringing one of the freshman members on board her leadership team.
“Today, we made our caucus more representative of our members,” Fudge said.