“We’re not starting a campaign against the Republicans right now,” Pelosi said on a Wednesday afternoon conference call with members, according to a Democratic aide on the call. “We want to work together. But I do hope that that political dynamic will give us some leverage with them to say, ‘You know, the more we work together, the better for you or us, but more importantly, for the American people.’”
Pelosi specifically mentioned the prospect of an infrastructure bill — a subject Trump broached in his victory remarks early Wednesday morning: “We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals,” he said. “We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.”
That, Pelosi said, is “an important priority for us, and we should work together to pass a bill very fast.”
The conference call came as Democrats struggled to make sense of their worst electoral setback in a generation. Beyond Trump’s win, Democrats gained only two Senate and six House seats, well short of the expectations they set in the weeks and months before Election Day.
That has some House Democrats quietly pondering whether Pelosi’s 14-year run as Democratic leader should continue — especially considering that whoever occupies that role would lead the opposition to Trump’s agenda. While Pelosi is a renowned fundraiser and adept at unifying a fractious caucus, her image as an outspoken San Francisco liberal has been poisonous to many House Democrats running in swing district. Many believe she represents an obstacle to winning back the white working-class voters who handed Trump his victory.
One House Democrat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions, cited an “uptick in conversations” Wednesday about party leadership that is expected to accelerate once lawmakers return to Washington next week. But it is unclear, the member said, who might step up to challenge Pelosi — or fill the $100 million fundraising void her departure could create.
But that discontent, so far, has been mum. No House Democrat on the conference call challenged Pelosi. Two relatively junior members — Reps. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) and Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) — did question how Democrats lost those working-class voters and the party might work to win them back.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who has led House Democrats’ messaging, said in an interview held before the conference call that the mood in the party is “Defcon 1” after Tuesday’s results: “I think we Democrats need to learn how to tap into acute middle class anxieties constructively or else House Republicans will continue to tap into those anxieties destructively.”
Still, he said, Pelosi is capable of leading House Democrats. “There is nothing she could have done to change a wave election of this magnitude,” said Israel, who is leaving Congress in January. “So I hope that she stays. Having said that, I think [Democrats] have to have a very serious conversation about a fundamental reset that continues to build our diversity but at the same time attracts working-class and middle-class voters. The fact of the matter is, we can’t do it without them.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who did not participate in the call, said in an interview that rank-and-file Democrats would rally behind Pelosi and her leadership deputies “to get us through this dark period.”
“I think it’s going to put off any discussion in changes of leadership for the immediate future,” he said. “I think right now, we need to coalesce quickly and recover psychologically from this as quickly as we can so we can gird for battle.”
Pelosi tempered her remarks about cooperating with Trump, according to the aide, saying that “while we must go forward and say we’re going to work with the new president … we cannot be insensitive to the vulnerability that people have in our country to some of the comments that the Republicans have made.”
She also noted the House majority had changed hands during the terms of each of the past three presidents: “Running against Washington is a tried and true tradition, and a successful one in many cases in our country.”
Paul Kane contributed to this report.