The House Democrats and Republicans both held their leadership elections on Wednesday for the new Congress. The parties met with their new members to organize for the upcoming 112th Congress, which will start in January. The Republicans were upbeat and well-organized. The Democrats were dispirited, disorganized, and divided.
The Democrats spent the day in closed-door meetings in the Canon House Office Building, across the street from the Capitol. Their elections for the new Congress were contested, and the schedule ran hours late.
Soon to be ex-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi held on to her power as the Democrats’ leader, against the wishes of some in her own party. Many Democrats thought Pelosi should step down in the wake of an historic loss of 60 seats in the House. Despite the internal conflict, Pelosi knew before the meetings that she had enough votes to be Minority Leader, but she was forced to face down two symbolic uprisings within her own ranks during the day.
“She was always going to win, but it was a question of how ugly the election would get,” said a GOP aide. “And it got really ugly.”
Rep. Heath Schuler (D–N.C.) ran against Pelosi for Minority Leader. Schuler got 43 votes, to Pelosi’s 150, but showed the significant internal opposition to her. Also, the open opposition to her leadership demonstrates the Democrats’ fears of facing their constituents as Pelosi disciples. As there are only 26 so-called “Blue Dog” moderate Democrats left in the House after the midterms, there were 17 liberal Democrats who voted against Pelosi.
“The Schuler vote was symbolic by the Democrats to protect themselves for 2012,” said one Republican aide. “They need to show that they aren’t all Pelosi people. They’re mad that she stayed on as leader and put them in a bad position.”
Also, Pelosi faced a large group of Democrats who attempted to delay the vote for leader until December, to have more time to think through the ramifications from the Republican landslide elections. The vote to delay Pelosi’s re-election failed, but 68 Democrats voted to stop her.
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D–N.J.), Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D–Ohio), Rep. David Wu (D–OR.), and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D–OR.) held a press conference outside of the Democrats’ meeting to say that they were disappointed that the vote went ahead for Pelosi. They appeared unabashed in expressing their frustration. “I think we missed an opportunity today to send a signal to America that we understand what happened this past election,” said Pascrell.
Three hours later than planned, Pelosi was elected Minority Leader, and aides hastily pushed American flags in front of the door to create a patriotic backdrop for her. She came out of the room with her leadership team to give brief remarks to the media.
Pelosi seemed defensive and edgy, but scripted on message, saying, “Our consensus is that we go out there listening to the American people. It’s about jobs. It’s about reducing the deficit. And, it’s about fighting for the middle class.” She was not very convincing when she said that “we extend a hand of friendship to the Republicans” and that “it’s not the Democratic way or the Republican way, it’s the right way to move to the future.”
Then, newly elected Minority Whip Steny Hoyer gave brief remarks and then introduced Rep. James Clyburn, who had briefly run against him for the position. Hoyer called Clyburn the new “Assistant to the Leader,” but was quickly and publicly scolded by Pelosi that the title was “Assistant Leader.”
Pelosi also made a point of praising Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D–Md.) as the new ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee. “So, now she says the budget is so important?” asked an exasperated Republican leadership aide. “She’s such a hypocrite. This year was the first time since the 1974 Budget Act that the Congress didn’t even consider a budget.”
Meanwhile, The Republicans spent the day in meetings across the street in the Longworth House Office building. The Republicans’ elections were organized, methodical, and non-controversial.
John Boehner (R–Ohio) was unanimously elected the designated Speaker of the House (he will not be officially Speaker until a House floor vote in January after the new freshmen are sworn-in as voting members.)
As expected, the Republicans then unanimously voted for Rep. Eric Cantor (R–VA.) for Majority Leader and for Kevin McCarthy (R–Calif.) for Majority Whip.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R–Tex.) was elected Republican Conference Chair. The conservative Hensarling was running for the fourth-ranking leadership position against Tea Party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann (R–Minn.) until last week when she suddenly dropped out of the race.
Rep. Pete Sessions (R–Tex.) was re-elected to be the National Republican Campaign Committee Chairman. Sessions wanted to move up to Whip, after having led fundraising and recruitment efforts for the Republican wave election, but Boehner hand-picked McCarthy, so Sessions was blocked out of a move up in leadership.
All the Republican leadership election results were unanimous and uncontested. Each time a new leader was announced, the members cheered so loudly inside the room that they could be heard far down the marble hallways.
Boehner cried when he was announced as the new Speaker of the House. He stood at the front of the room as the members gave him a standing ovation.
“I remember four years ago when I handed Nancy Pelosi the gavel,” Boehner said, according to a source in the room.
“That’s when I cried,” yelled out Rep. Louie Gohmert (R–Tex.)
As Boehner tried to regain his composure, someone put a box of tissues on the podium for him. He spoke about “the dawn of a new majority, one I believe will be humbler, wiser, and more focused than its predecessors on the priorities of the people.”
“The job of the next Speaker is to work to restore the institution, restore it to being the people’s House,” Boehner told the Republicans, according to his staff. “It’s not about us; it’s about them. And what they want is a smaller, less costly, more accountable government. More jobs, less spending. It’s that simple.”
Also, Boehner celebrated his 61st birthday, and was surprised when a huge, green frosted birthday cake was wheeled into the room. Happy Birthday, Mr. Speaker!