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Populist Democrats Lose in Effort to Delay Leadership Elections

In a press conference outside the House Democratic caucus meeting, four members discussed their effort to delay leadership elections for a month, in a potential rebuke to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Ultimately, leadership beat this back by a 2-to-1 margin (129-68 in a secret ballot), and leadership elections will be held today. All leadership members from the last Congress will run unopposed except for Pelosi, who will face token opposition from Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC).

Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), David Wu (D-OR) and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) sought the delay, to “give the caucus an opportunity to reflect and decide in due course” on leadership elections, in the words of Wu. “There is a concern among the rank and file on how we got to this point and how we move forward,” said DeFazio, who has been critical of the White House and the lack of attention to jobs and the economy.

Pascrell said that the effort “started a dialogue within the caucus” on how best to proceed. Ultimately, that effort did not succeed, but Pascrell described the debate as “excellent.”

Kaptur added this:

Republicans did not win this election. The Democrats lost it because our base stayed home. I don’t think the American people had loyalty to any party. The only tool they have is their vote. They’re trying to wake Washington up… They will press that reset button every election until they get what they need.

There’s certainly frustration and perhaps a bit of fear that the Democrats won’t be changing their leadership team in the House after their historic loss of at least 61 seats in the midterms. But there are two layers to this. One is the layer from this DeFazio/Kaptur/Wu/Pascrell set, who want to see a real jobs agenda from Democrats, and a return to the values that set the Democratic Party apart. The other layer comes from Blue Dogs, who just want to sabotage Nancy Pelosi for ideological reasons.

In a letter circulated to Democratic members this morning ahead of the Dems’ leadership elections, Reps. Larry Kissell (D-NC), Jim Matheson (D-UT), and Dan Lipinski (D-IL), are trying build support for stripping Pelosi of the powers that come with being minority leader.

“In light of the significant losses our party suffered earlier this month, we believe it is imperative that today’s organizational meeting should provide all Members the opportunity to openly debate the rules that will be proposed for the 112th Congress and offer amendments that they believe would improve the ability of the Caucus to develop and message a Democratic agenda, recruit candidates, and return Democrats to the majority in 2012,” they write.

The three Reps are asking for an open amendment process in a bid to change caucus rules and curtail Pelosi and her allies’ influence over committee assignments and other party business.

The Conservadems are small in number and completely wrong on the merits, and this should be seen as an insurrection that would create a political party on the “left” that is indistinguishable from the one on the right. The Kaptur/DeFazio argument should be taken more seriously.

UPDATE: Nancy Pelosi was elected Minority Leader of the Democratic caucus by a 150-43 vote over Heath Shuler.

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David Dayen

David Dayen