House Democrats meet privately to regroup after midterm election losses

A variety of new faces showed up for the first day of the "lame duck" session in Congress.
By Felicia Sonmez and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 16, 2010; 8:51 PM

In a marathon soul-searching session, House Democrats grappled Tuesday with their loss of at least 60 seats in the midterm elections while trying to plot a path as the minority party.

Huddled in private in a basement meeting room at the Capitol, Democrats spent the afternoon listening as their defeated colleagues spoke about their losses, sometimes in emotional tones, according to lawmakers.

After 41/2 hours, they took a break for a series of routine floor votes, only to resume their private session afterward.

The meeting came on the eve of Wednesday's leadership elections, which are likely to reinstall the same team that oversaw the election defeat. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is expected to win the race for minority leader and place her current lieutenants in the posts beneath her.

This has caused consternation among some Democrats.

Outside the meeting, Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (Ore.) told reporters that he had at least 19 signatures on a proposal to delay leadership elections until after Thanksgiving, to let the losses sink in.

As the meeting got underway at noon, Rep. David Wu (Ore.) proposed a resolution to permit each of the roughly 50 defeated Democrats to speak for five minutes, which was quickly followed by a decision to allow every member of the 255-member caucus to speak if they wanted to do so.

"People are being forthright," Wu said of the deliberations. "It's a very positive thing."

Politico reported that one lawmaker who lost, Rep. Allen Boyd (Fla.), called Pelosi the "face of our defeat" because the GOP had run so many ads linking Democrats to the unpopular speaker.

But Pelosi still has a large reservoir of goodwill among her colleagues because of her legislative and political victories. "It would be exactly the wrong thing to do for her to go away," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.).

Her supporters said Pelosi recounted her eight-year run as minority leader and then speaker.

"She took over a caucus that had lost five consecutive elections, and at a time when people thought we'd never win again, she brought us to two victories," said Rep. Robert E. Andrews (N.J.).

Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.), who is Pelosi's lone challenger for minority leader, said she has pushed the party too far to the left. He said he told her privately that her image was too bruised to lead the party back to the majority.

"When I played in the NFL, and you lost significantly, you were replaced, and I had that conversation direct with her," the former Redskins quarterback said.

Staff writer Shailagh Murray contributed to this report.

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