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House Democrats Re-Elect Nancy Pelosi As Minority Leader


On Capitol Hill, House Democrats have re-elected Nancy Pelosi to serve as their leader in the next Congress. It's a job Pelosi has held since 2003, though Democrats only had a majority in the House for four of those years. Pelosi's victory today didn't come without a fight. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis has this story on the Democrats' angst about the future of the party.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Moments after winning a contested election for minority leader, Nancy Pelosi emerged to publicly pledged that Democrats will never suffer an electoral defeat as demoralizing as 2016.


NANCY PELOSI: This does afford an opportunity so that the congressional Democrats can go forward and remove all doubt - that never again will we have an election where there's any doubt in anyone's mind where Democrats are when it comes to America's working families.

DAVIS: There's consensus among Democrats here that a weak economic message from their party contributed to Hillary Clinton's loss, as well as their weak showing in down ballot races. House Democrats gained just six seats. That outcome prompted Ohio Democrat Tim Ryan to launch a long shot bid to oust Pelosi, a liberal lawmaker from San Francisco. Ryan represents Youngstown, a place emblematic of white working-class Americans who sided with Republicans this year. Ryan says the party needs new leaders and a new economic agenda to win those voters back. He lost. Ryan got 63 votes. Pelosi got 134 votes. That's two-thirds of her party. Here's Ryan.

TIM RYAN: Look, it's hard to make change, you know, but again, we'll see. I mean, we don't have an answer right now. You know, clearly they may - they think Nancy Pelosi's the best person. I have a different opinion obviously. And we're now united, but now we want to try to shape the message.

DAVIS: But Democrats don't sound united. Oregon Democrat Kurt Schrader is a Blue Dog. They're a group of business friendly Democrats on economic issues. They usually represent more rural or conservative-leaning districts, and they're a dying breed in Congress. Schrader is one of only 14 Blue Dogs in the House. Here's why he voted for Ryan.

KURT SCHRADER: Right now, we're a bunch of liberal elite urbanists, except for a very few number of Blue Dog members. And some of the Rust Belt members are feeling the pain after this most recent election. Unless we just change course - and we got to start electing different people in tougher districts, like we had when we were back in the majority.

DAVIS: Pelosi has not ignored those concerns. She announced she'd appoint Illinois Democrat Cheri Bustos and Pennsylvania's Matt Cartwright to her leadership team to help advance the party's economic message. They both represent districts with many working-class voters. But those moves do not soothe Democrats like Ohio's Marcy Kaptur. She voted for Pelosi, but like many Democrats, she's deeply frustrated with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. That's the political arm of the party. She says they simply don't know how to win tough districts in states like Ohio.

MARCY KAPTUR: I've had terrible experience with their staff over there. When we talk about the consultants that are hired, how they approach different areas of the country - it's like they're on some other planet.

DAVIS: And the political future for Democrats is daunting. The nation is just four years away from the next round of congressional redistricting, and Republicans are poised to once again have the advantage there. The party has made sweeping gains in governor's races and state Houses since 2010. In other words, Democrats don't have a lot of time to turn the party around. It's why many Democrats, like Oregon's Schrader, feel this way.

SCHRADER: Nothing's going to change any time soon. We're going to be in the minority for the next 15 years.

DAVIS: Pelosi still has a bedrock group of loyalists. She's unparalleled in her ability to raise money for House Democrats, and she's admired by younger lawmakers, like California's Eric Swalwell. He says her victory today is a reflection of the party's confidence in her.

ERIC SWALWELL: I think it reflects that she's a listener. She's a doer. She has energy, and she's going to be our comeback leader.

DAVIS: Pelosi's re-election was also celebrated elsewhere on Capitol Hill. The House Republican campaign operation hung an old anti-Pelosi banner outside their window with a tongue-in-cheek note attached. It read - congrats, Nancy. Susan Davis, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.