The challenge to Nancy Pelosi by Ohioan Tim Ryan focused attention on Donald Trump’s success in attracting white, working-class voters in Rust Belt states.
WASHINGTON — House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi did it again, fending off a rival to win another term as minority leader and confirming her staying power as the party prepares to confront President-elect Donald Trump.
The California Democrat has beaten back ouster attempts before. But this year’s challenge by an Ohio Democrat focused attention on Trump’s success in attracting white, working-class voters in Rust Belt states, and whether that was a sign that Democrats needed changes at the top.
Rep. Tim Ryan, whose Youngstown-area district represents the kind of blue-collar voters that fueled Trump’s victory, made a strong showing. Although he lost 134-63, it was a closer margin than for previous rivals who have aspired to replace Pelosi.
The competition appears to have only emboldened Pelosi, 76, a survivor who shows no signs of relinquishing her position as one of the most powerful Democrats in the country.
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“We’re at a time where it’s well beyond politics,” Pelosi said after the vote. “It’s about the character of America and how we go forward … to differentiate between us and the administration that will come into Washington in January.”
Republicans could not have been more pleased. One Republican walking to his office near the Democrats’ closed-door meeting said he hoped Pelosi would win because he features her prominently in his TV campaign ads back home.
With President Obama leaving the White House, Republicans are eager to continue focusing on Pelosi as a caricature of liberal Democrats out of touch with the rest of the country.
The House Republican campaign team unfurled a poster spoofing its support for her from its headquarters across from the Capitol. “Congrats Nancy!” it read Wednesday.
However, even Pelosi’s foes warn against underestimating the first woman to become House speaker.
Responding to the challenge, Pelosi proposed an expansion of her Democratic leadership team with more seats at the table for younger members and those from states Trump won.
The move reflected a similar tact taken after the November election in the Senate by incoming Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, who added moderates from the Rust Belt as well as progressives to his team.
Ryan, 43, who picked up support from fellow Rust Belt lawmakers and those from the intermountain Western states of Arizona and Colorado, said he had succeeded in opening up the leadership ranks.
“We’re a family, and sometimes families have to have tough conversations,” Ryan said after the vote, flanked by supporters.
“We come out of here stronger than we went in. We’re all going to participate in leading the party,” he said.
While the changes appeared to soothe some rank-and-file lawmakers, others said Pelosi will need to do more to loosen her grip on power and allow more voices into the decision-making process.
Many lawmakers remain fearful of speaking out against Pelosi, who draws allies close but also keeps tabs on dissenters. The leadership changes will be considered by the caucus in the days ahead.
“For her to have two-thirds support shows there’s overwhelming trust in her as a leader, but folks want to see new energy behind her and I think she’s open-minded to that,” said California Rep. Eric Swalwell, who is among those younger members taking on new leadership duties.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., said she was “deeply disappointed” by the vote. “This should be a time of critical reflection and clear-eyed change, not a time to rubber stamp the failed strategy of the past.”
First elected to House leadership 15 years ago, Pelosi has faced calls for her ouster since Democrats lost the majority under her watch in 2010, during Obama’s first term in office.
The mother of five — and grandmother — also has endured questions about how much longer she will stay at the helm.
She typically swats back such inquiries by noting the comparable ages of male colleagues in leadership roles elsewhere in the Capitol.