WASHINGTON — Nancy Pelosi, the nation's first female House speaker, said Friday she will try to keep her spot as leader of the House Democrats despite huge election losses that cost her party the majority.
Pelosi, a California liberal, rejected pressure from moderate House Democrats — and even some liberal allies — who said the widespread defeats cried out for new party leadership.
Pelosi, 70, will seek her colleagues' support to become House minority leader when the new Congress convenes in January. That would keep her atop the Democratic House caucus, which will number about 190 people next year. But it would mark a big drop from being speaker, which carries tremendous power to influence legislation and is second only to the vice president in the line of presidential succession.
House members elect their respective party leaders, although the entire House elects the speaker. That post is almost certain to go Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the current minority leader.
"Our work is far from finished," Pelosi said in a letter to colleagues. "As a result of Tuesday's election, the role of Democrats in the 112th Congress will change, but our commitment to serving the American people will not. We have no intention of allowing our great achievements to be rolled back."
Pelosi said many colleagues "have called with their recommendations on how to continue our fight for the middle class, and have encouraged me to run for House Democratic Leader."
Dozens of Republican House candidates attacked their Democratic opponents by tying them to Pelosi and suggesting they would do whatever the San Francisco liberal asked.
Several Democratic lawmakers in conservative districts vowed to oppose Pelosi as speaker, but some of them lost all the same.
One who did survive, Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina, had said he might challenge Pelosi because the party needs a more moderate leader. Shuler noted that he lost his job as Washington Redskins quarterback in 1997 after the team performed poorly.
As the magnitude of Tuesday's election losses sunk in, even some longtime supporters of Pelosi said she needed to step aside as the party leader.
"As good a leader as she has been, I don't think she's the right leader to take us forward," Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., told WHAS-TV in Louisville on Thursday. He said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who has ranked second to Pelosi for years, would be "a perfect spokesman for the Democratic Party in the House."
Hoyer is more centrist than Pelosi, and the two have long had a cordial but somewhat wary relationship.
Hoyer might retain his second-ranking status, which would make him the new minority whip. But it's possible that liberals will try to oust him from the shrunken leadership ladder to prevent fellow liberals from being demoted.
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