WASHINGTON – Despite suffering near-historic election losses this month, House Democrats appear ready to keep their leadership team intact, with Nancy Pelosi of California still on top.
Both parties will hold closed-door House leadership elections Wednesday. But the main focus will involve the soon-to-be minority party, the Democrats.
Pelosi, the nation's first female speaker, appeared to soothe enough angry colleagues Tuesday to ensure her election to the top post. Barring a surprise, she will become minority leader in January, when the new Congress convenes. The second- and third-ranking Democrats seem likely to hold their positions as well.
Republicans, meanwhile, are expected to keep Rep. John Boehner of Ohio as their leader, putting him in place to become speaker in January.
By quarreling among themselves and sticking with Pelosi, House Democrats are departing from the example set by Republicans, who quickly closed ranks around a new leader, Boehner, four years ago when they lost the majority.
Pelosi let her supporters and critics vent their emotions Tuesday at a four-hour closed meeting in the Capitol. She got an earful at times from colleagues who said a party must change leaders when it suffers the type of losses Democrats absorbed Nov. 2.
Rep. Allen Boyd of Florida was particularly pointed in his remarks, according to people present, saying Pelosi is the wrong person to represent Democrats as they try to rebuild. But others defended the San Francisco liberal, and even her toughest critics said she is likely to defeat Rep. Heath Shuler, a moderate from North Carolina.
Shuler told reporters he's trying to make a point. After a whopping election defeat, he said, it's not wise "to go back and put the exact same leadership into place."
House Democrats appeared to iron out enough differences to prevent a revolt by black members who wanted Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., to claim the party's second-ranking leadership post, called the whip.
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, a leader of moderate Democrats, will keep the No. 2 post, lawmakers said. Clyburn, the House's highest-ranking black member, is in line to be elected to a new position called "assistant leader," they said. Despite the new title, he will remain the House Democrats' third-ranking leader.
President Barack Obama has invited congressional leaders of both parties to the White House, a postelection session expected this week but now put off until Nov. 30. The White House said Tuesday that Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell asked for the delay because of scheduling conflicts in organizing their caucuses.
Tuesday's events offered scant evidence that Democrats, who often quarrel among themselves, will become more cohesive in the wake of their 60-seat House loss.
Shuler, for instance, showed no interest in mimicking the solidarity that House Republicans displayed during the past four years, when they voted unanimously or nearly unanimously against many high-profile initiatives by Democrats, including Obama.
"It's very frustrating when I see everyone voting in bloc," Shuler told reporters, because Americans are diverse and crave bipartisan solutions.
Republicans took a different tack after the 2006 election, which cost them the House majority they had held for 12 years. Within a day, then-Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said he would step down as party leader in the next Congress.
House Republicans soon coalesced around Boehner, and he persuaded them to consistently oppose Democrats despite what some people saw as anti-GOP rebukes from voters in 2006 and 2008.
Pelosi, 70, has refused to go down with the ship. She blamed this month's Democratic losses on the bad economy, not on policy decisions by her party. She said there was no reason for her to step aside.
Many House liberals support her. But a number of rank-and-file Democrats, including some left of center, are dismayed. They note that dozens of Republican House candidates ran campaigns linking their Democratic opponents to Pelosi, who was portrayed as a hardcore liberal hopelessly out of touch with middle American values.
"She definitely hurts," said Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., who lost his re-election bid this month. Citing former Republican House leader Tom DeLay, Taylor said in an interview: "When he realized he was a drag on leadership, he went away. Somehow the Democratic leadership didn't learn that lesson."
Associated Press writers Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Ben Evans and Donna Cassata contributed to this report.