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What To Make Of The 43 'No' Votes Against Nancy Pelosi

Nov 17, 2010

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My colleague Frank James reports on the just-concluded secret vote in the House Democratic Caucus, which decided to keep Nancy Pelosi as their number one.  The speaker in the 110th and 111th Congresses, she will be the minority leader in the 112th, which begins next January.

With the next caucus smaller, blacker and more liberal than it was prior to Nov. 2, it should not be a surprise that 150 of her fellow Democrats voted for Pelosi.  The headline, to me, is that 43 of them voted for her opponent, Rep. Heath Shuler of N.C., a moderate.

Earlier in the day there was an effort to delay the vote, until after Thanksgiving, to give more Democrats time to assess what happened to them.  The motion, by Reps. Peter DeFazio (Ore.) and Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), failed on a 129-68 vote.  The 68 vote to delay was widely interpreted as a rebuke to Pelosi.

The 43 votes for Shuler weren't much more encouraging.

There are many reasons why Democrats suffered its worst defeat in the House since 1938 — a net loss of 61 as of this writing, with the possibility of three more seats falling to the GOP.  Nancy Pelosi may not be a major one.  Yes, as retiring Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) said today on Talk of the Nation, she was vilified throughout the campaign by Republican candidates everywhere.  But, he insisted, it was the state of the economy, not Nancy Pelosi, that was responsible for the shellacking.  Had the unemployment rate been 5 percent, instead of approaching 10 percent, Stupak added, she would still be speaker heading into 2011.

But Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), who lost his bid for an eighth term, is quoted by the Associated Press as saying, "The truth is, she is the face that defeated us in this last election."

Forty-three votes against your incumbent leader is not encouraging, but it's also no record.  The late Mo Udall (D-Ariz.), who made what was another quixotic run against his party's leadership back in December 1968 — when he took on Speaker John McCormack — got 58 votes in that challenge.  McCormack won easily, but it was a sign that there was a desire, among some members, for "new leadership."

Today's vote could be a sign of turmoil to come for Democrats in the next Congress.

Or, maybe not.

Not surprisingly, there were only smiles during the Republican leadership vote, which produced no surprises.  John Boehner of Ohio, who turned 61 today, will go from minority leader to speaker and Eric Cantor of Virginia moves from minority whip to majority leader.  Kevin McCarthy of California will be the new majority whip.

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