Pelosi faces challenge in House from Ohio Democrat

Andrew Taylor
Associated Press

Washington — House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi is facing a challenge from one of her caucus’ frustrated younger members as the party faces another two years in the minority.

Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan said Thursday he will challenge the California lawmaker, who has led the party since 2002 and was the first female speaker from 2007-11, in leadership elections later this month. Democrats have been reeling since last week when the party won fewer seats than she had predicted and lost the presidency.

“What we are doing right now is not working,” the 43-year-old Ryan said in a letter to colleagues. “Under our current leadership, Democrats have been reduced to our smallest congressional minority since 1929. This should indicate to all of us that keeping our leadership team completely unchanged will simply lead to more disappointment in future elections.”

Ryan is from a Rust Belt state that President Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012, but President-elect Donald Trump won Ohio easily this year. Along with younger members in the caucus, Democrats from several Midwestern states have expressed concern that the party has become too focused on the two coasts and forgotten the working-class voters in the middle. Pelosi is from San Francisco.

Well-known for her ability to count votes, Pelosi is still the favorite to win another term as leader. She said in announcing her candidacy on Wednesday that she has the backing of two-thirds of the caucus, though Ryan questioned that number.

The election is Nov. 30. It had been scheduled for Thursday but was postponed until after Thanksgiving.

Pelosi, 76, is a survivor who enjoys enormous respect and goodwill among most Democrats, even as many of her closest allies have left Congress. She has managed to maintain unity within the diverse flock of House Democrats and is an unparalleled fundraiser for them.

Ryan’s bid marks the second time Pelosi has faced a challenge after a dismal Democratic performance in an election. She easily beat back North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler 150-43 after the party lost the majority in 2010.

But some Democratic lawmakers expressed their frustration in a closed-door caucus meeting earlier Thursday.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., said he had issued a challenge in the caucus “that anybody who is running for any position of leadership needs to come back and explain to us how we’re going to be able to survive one, the Trump years, but two, to not have the same excuse we have every two years where there’s some external factor that somehow causes us to not gain the seats that we need.”

Among the frustrations for junior Democrats is that several top Democrats on powerful committees have been atop their posts for many years — well into their 80s in some cases — and are not some of the party’s most fresh and vibrant voices. For instance, the top Democrat on the panel responsible for taxes and the Affordable Care Act is 85-year-old Rep. Sander Levin of Royal Oak, while the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee is John Conyers, 87, of Detroit who’s been in Congress for more than 50 years.