WASHINGTON ― House Democrats met Tuesday for the first time since Hillary Clinton’s loss to President-elect Donald Trump last week, and the takeaway from their meeting was clear: It’s time for some serious soul-searching.
Lawmakers stumbled out of the nearly two-hour meeting with no clear sense of who they are or what their strategy will be in a GOP-led Congress and White House. Is it time for new leadership? Maybe. Did the election deliver a clear message on what their priorities should be? No. Is it a good idea to replace Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)? Unclear.
Many of them are still trying to figure out what happened.
“We just got a shellacking last Tuesday,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) told reporters. “We got an unexpected defeat and we’ve got to recalibrate and decide how we go forward. It’s just like death. There are different stages of grief you go through, and after a defeat such as this, there are different stages we have to go through.”
This is not where Democrats envisioned they would be when they hit the campaign trail in September. They thought Clinton would win, and that they might even take back the Senate. They thought they would pick up more House seats. That scenario would have meant opportunities for building on President Barack Obama’s successes and a chance to expand on new Democratic priorities. Instead, they spent Tuesday morning in a closed meeting reconsidering their whole operation.
The most immediate question is whether Pelosi should keep her post. Publicly, Democrats said it’s not her fault that their party got trounced nationally.
“Ms. Pelosi enjoys great respect and support in the Democratic Caucus,” said Butterfield. “This is no reflection on her leadership at all.”
“I think she’s done a damn good job,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.). “I think she’s a far better leader than Boehner was to his caucus.”
But some said the election was a wake-up call on the need for major changes.
“It is past time” for Pelosi to go, said a Democratic lawmaker who requested anonymity to speak more freely.
It’s just like death. There are different stages of grief you go through. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.)
Pelosi hasn’t had a real challenger since 2010, the last time Democrats endured an electoral blowout, and in that time, she’s raised record-breaking amounts of money for the party. But this time around, even some of her supporters want time to regroup. Democrats voted Tuesday to push back their leadership elections by two weeks, until Nov. 30, to spend time re-evaluating their next steps. This came after some lawmakers circulated a letter urging Pelosi to delay the elections, and after female lawmakers sent around a letter of their own asking Pelosi to stay on.
There aren’t obvious replacements for Pelosi, though one name has been floated: Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who represents the kind of white, working class district that sided so heavily with Trump in the election. There’s an obvious problem with Ryan, though.
“We’ve got Trump, [Mitch] McConnell, [Chuck] Schumer, [Paul] Ryan. All these white men,” said another Democrat who asked for anonymity to be more candid. “Are we going to put another white guy in?”
For her part, Pelosi’s message to members of her caucus was to lick their wounds, learn from what happened and move forward ― united. She said Democrats should focus on finding common ground with Republicans when possible, and otherwise contrast themselves with Trump.
“We’ve been through hell,” Pelosi said, per a source in the caucus meeting. “It’s only going to get worse as [Trump] makes his appointments and we have this fight.”
Chased by reporters later, Pelosi suggested she had no qualms with leadership elections being pushed back and said November’s losses speak to the presidential race more than to what House Democrats are doing.
One reporter asked, point-blank, if she sees the delayed leadership elections as a repudiation of her leadership. Pelosi, about to disappear behind a set of doors, turned back momentarily.
“No, I don’t,” she replied.