— A few hours after Conor Lamb, the Pennsylvania Democrat, claimed
victory in a House race with a vow to oppose his party’s leader, Nancy
Pelosi, the once-and-perhaps-future speaker was explaining to a group
of female congressional candidates why she did not retire after 2016.
intended to do so after Hillary Clinton won, Ms. Pelosi recalled
Wednesday at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reception
here. But she stayed to ensure Washington had at least one woman in
some lawmakers in the room who described her remarks, the message was
clear: Ms. Pelosi is not going anywhere — a point she underscored in
her resolve is at odds with growing numbers of Democratic candidates
who view her as politically toxic and are pledging to vote against her
as their leader, as Mr. Lamb did without suffering consequences with
voters and donors. These candidates and some current House Democrats —
tired of years of attack ads invoking Ms. Pelosi as a “San Francisco
liberal,” and impatient to see a younger set of leaders take power —
are now openly distancing themselves from Ms. Pelosi or declaring
outright that it is time for her to go.
this strategy from the right, Democratic candidates are increasingly
opposing her as speaker or refusing to take a stand an act of
political inoculation — a trend that even her allies acknowledge could
ultimately imperil her grip on the Democratic caucus.
least two other senior Democrats, Representatives Steny H. Hoyer of
Maryland and Joseph Crowley of New York, are already actively laying
the groundwork to seek the leader’s job if Ms. Pelosi’s position
Democratic House candidates descended on Washington last week for a
round of training and fund-raising, the topic of how to confront the
Pelosi question came up repeatedly, according to multiple officials.
was just in D.C. and that’s the advice everybody gives: Don’t say
you’re for Pelosi,” recalled former Representative Brad Ashford, a
Nebraska Democrat trying to reclaim his seat. (He would not rule out
backing Ms. Pelosi.)
ominous for Ms. Pelosi, it is not just centrist candidates running in
red-tinged districts who are reluctant to embrace her, but also
political insurgents on the left who see her as an embodiment of the
would have to see who’s running,” said Marie Newman, a progressive
Democratic House candidate in Illinois, when asked if she would
support Ms. Pelosi for speaker. Ms. Newman is vying to unseat
Representative Daniel Lipinski, a conservative Chicago Democrat, in a
primary there on Tuesday.
on Capitol Hill, Ms. Pelosi, 77, must contend with colleagues from her
own generation who want their turn in charge, as well as younger
Democrats who’d prefer to clear out the party’s entire septuagenarian
leadership team: beyond Ms. Pelosi, the other two ranking House
Democrats, Mr. Hoyer and James E. Clyburn, are 78 and 77.
at a time when women are at the forefront of the opposition to Mr.
Trump’s presidency —volunteering,
donating and running for office in record numbers—
the specter of Democrats taking back the House only to unceremoniously
dump the most powerful woman in American politics strikes many in the
party as outrageous.
Ms. Pelosi herself is plainly in this camp.
a woman at the table,” she said in the interview Friday before getting
on a plane for Houston, where she was going to raise money for House
Democrats at the annual rodeo there.
the swagger that delights her admirers and prompts eye-rolling from
detractors, Ms. Pelosi said Democrats needed her in charge.
am a master legislator, I am a shrewd politician and I have a
following in the country that, apart from a presidential candidate,
nobody else can claim,” she said.
she would not firmly commit to seeking the speakership again, it is
clearly her plan, and she even gave voice to a concern on the minds of
many Democrats: the chaotic scramble that would ensue if she steps
I was to walk away now, this caucus would be in such a musical chairs
scenario,” she said.
as energy on the left has soared across the country thanks to Mr.
Trump, tensions among House Democrats are brewing inside the Capitol.
Should Democrats fail to reclaim the House in a year with so many
factors in their favor, Ms. Pelosi and her long-serving lieutenants
will almost certainly be pushed to step down.
some in the caucus want to see new leadership no matter what.
Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, hosted Mr.
Crowley at a St. Patrick’s Day-themed event last week and unexpectedly
announced that he would back Mr. Crowley for leader. Mr. Pascrell, 81,
said the culture of the House was changing.
lot of new people will be coming in and I think we should start
fresh,” Mr. Pascrell said, adding almost apologetically of Ms. Pelosi:
“She’s taken a lot of crap from Republicans and Democrats and she’s
really been above it all.”
Filemon Vela, a Texas Democrat, said he had also encouraged Mr.
Crowley to run for speaker.
Joe be the leader of this party next session would be a welcome
change,” said Mr. Vela, 55, adding that Ms. Pelosi “hurts our
candidates” in competitive districts.
his part, Mr. Crowley has been inviting groups of younger lawmakers to
meet for coffee and pastries in his office, reaching out to
high-profile newer members like Joaquin Castro of Texas and Joseph P.
Kennedy III of Massachusetts.
an interview, Mr. Crowley declined to rule out taking on Ms. Pelosi.
Asked if he was seeking commitments for a future race, Mr. Crowley
said only that “I have been talking to my colleagues about what they
and we can do to help put us in the majority.”
Pelosi dismissed the idea of a challenge from Mr. Crowley, who briefly
considered challenging her after the 2016 election, and her aides
pointedly noted that at an event in New York last week, he introduced
her as “soon to be speaker again.”
Hoyer, in turn, has pitched himself to colleagues as a transitional
House speaker, according to multiple lawmakers who have spoken with
him — a steady hand through the 2020 elections, and perhaps no
further. Katie Grant, his spokeswoman, said he was “focused on taking
back the House.”
of Ms. Pelosi’s challenge owes to the changing nature of fund-raising:
Mr. Lamb raised over $4 million from mostly online contributors, the
same way other Democrats are attracting donations. That has raised
questions about just how much Ms. Pelosi’s vaunted fund-raising
prowess still matters.
weakens the leverage of party leaders,” Representative Tim Ryan, an
Ohio Democrat who challenged Ms. Pelosi after the 2016 elections, said
of the new fund-raising tools.
some Democrats predicted that if the party rides an electoral wave
back to power, Ms. Pelosi would reap much of the credit.
we take the majority, I completely assume that Leader Pelosi will be
Speaker Pelosi,” said Representative Karen Bass, Democrat of
most plausible scenario for Ms. Pelosi to exit, Democrats believe, is
one in which the party just barely wins control of the House. A number
of new lawmakers would have pledged not to vote for her, and several
Democrats oppose her as a matter of routine, potentially denying her
the 218 votes needed to secure the speakership.
think it will be left up to the new membership,” said Representative
John Lewis of Georgia, noting that freshman lawmakers and the rest of
the caucus should “work their will.” That could doom Ms. Pelosi,
especially if more Democrats follow Mr. Lamb’s approach.
least three of the Democrats’ “red to blue” candidates — recruits
designated as top priorities by the D.C.C.C. — have signaled they
would prefer a leader other than Ms. Pelosi. In Minnesota, Dean
Phillips, a wealthy businessman challenging Representative Erik
Paulsen, a Republican, has called for a “new generation of
leadership.” In Washington State, Lisa Brown, a former state senator
who is challenging Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a member of
the Republican leadership, said “there’s room for new blood in all the
caucuses in Congress.”
Paul Davis, who is running for an open seat in Kansas, is flatly
opposed to Ms. Pelosi. He said a change was “badly needed” and
lamented leaders who are “toxic in this part of the country.”
there is unease with Ms. Pelosi in solid-blue districts, too. In two
Boston-area districts, neither the Democratic incumbents nor their
more progressive rivals have committed to backing Ms. Pelosi. Brianna
Wu, a liberal activist opposing Representative Stephen F. Lynch in a
Democratic primary, said she was worried Democrats would suffer from
Ms. Pelosi’s “inability to express a vision for the party.”
Kurt Schrader of Oregon, a moderate Democrat, said he had encouraged
other congressional hopefuls to oppose Ms. Pelosi if necessary.
have liberals back home, the one thing they really like about me is
the fact that I voted against Nancy,” he said. “No matter what
candidate you are, it’s not necessarily a bad message.”