Is Pelosi thinking about a new leader?

Al Kamen
Columnist October 22, 2012

Rumbles in the House?

Word that the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi , wants to move the date of the party’s leadership elections to Dec. 5 has sparked intense speculation on the Hill. The vote is usually held the week after the general election.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

The thinking is that if Pelosi (Calif.) decided not to run for leader, the delay would give potential successors a time to organize a campaign against House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). The Pelosi-Hoyer relationship has never been particularly chummy, though things are said to be okay of late.

“That’s ridiculous,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said of the speculators’ reasoning. “Leader Pelosi is singularly focused on winning the election.” (Meaning the one Nov. 6.) And apparently the leadership vote may still be held the week after the election.

The official explanation for the potential date change, which was worked up the week before last, according to an account Friday in Politico, was that House Democrats were complaining about being pestered and distracted by calls from candidates running for the only leadership spot now vacant, the lowly position of vice chair of the Democratic caucus.

That’s prompting a chorus of guffaws — though we were told the candidates were indeed making calls to lock in support. On the other hand, there’s only a handful running, so how many calls can that be?

By way of background, the leadership elections are timed to coincide with new members’ arrival in town for orientation sessions. (The change would mean the newbies would have to come back after Thanksgiving.)

Loop Fans may recall that, two years ago, after the Great Thumping that relegated the D’s to the minority, Pelosi quashed an effort to hold the leadership elections in December.

So the leadership votes were held the week after the election, leaving no time for a real challenge to coalesce, and Pelosi crushed now-retiring Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.).

So if Pelosi really wanted to run again, you’d think she would want that same short campaign time.

Busting the ’buster

Whoever wins the White House, there will be appointments, judicial nominations and legislation aplenty heading to Congress — and one thing to watch for is early action in the Senate on filibuster reform.

Proponents of overhauling the Senate custom see a window of opportunity for change, but it’s a narrow one with plenty of chances to cloud up.

After opposing filibuster reform, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is now in favor of tweaking it, blaming the procedure for tying the closely divided Senate in knots.

If there’s going to be any action, it’s likely to come in the first day or so of the new session. The crux of the argument for taking what’s known in Senate parlance as the “constitutional option” (in which a simple majority can change the Senate’s rules) is that the Senate’s rules don’t carry over from session to session, and so making a change would have to happen in the early hours of a new Congress.

Another unknown is that even reform-minded senators aren’t sure just how far Reid is willing to go. He’s said he’s for the idea of eliminating the use of the filibuster on “motions to proceed,” which essentially allows individual senators to block bills from ever coming up for debate. But Reid’s been coy about what other changes he’d embrace.

And unrelated bipartisan negotiations over the “fiscal cliff” could make it dicier for Reid to jump off the institutional cliff by forcing the issue — after all, if he’s working a deal with Republicans, it will be harder for him to roil the waters by making a controversial move on the filibuster.

In an alternative scenario, the chances are far murkier. If Republicans wrest control of the Senate and GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is in the driver’s seat, he could face pressure from some Republicans within his caucus to rein in the filibuster, particularly if there’s a Republican in the White House.

But McConnell doesn’t support filibuster reform, believing instead that the chamber can function more smoothly without a rule change. “This is not about the rules,” he said on the Senate floor last month. “The rules have remained largely the same over the years. This is about us. . . . All we have to do is decide to operate differently.”

And what are the chances of that happening?

So far, discussions about the course of action have been under the radar, with most senators taking a wait-and-see approach until after Nov. 6.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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