The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Nancy Pelosi has served America well, but it’s time for new Democratic leadership

After pushing off questions about Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi until after the election, many non-incumbent Democrats are still dodging questions about her. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)
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Kathleen Rice, a Democrat and former district attorney, represents New York’s 4th Congressional District in the House.

How did Democrats win back the House majority?

We did it with exceptional candidates — including a record number of women, as well as a wave of veterans and people of color. We did it in the face of serious institutional obstacles such as gerrymandered districts, voter suppression and an avalanche of special interest money aimed at maintaining the status quo.

We now have the chance to tackle the problems the Republican majority ignored for the past eight years. We now have the responsibility and the authority to hold President Trump and his administration accountable for their actions.

And we now have the opportunity to show voters that we will deliver on the promise of change on which we campaigned. For many House Democrats, that means supporting new leadership for speaker of the House.

Let me be clear: This isn’t personal. As the top House Democrat since 2003, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has done great things for the Democratic Party — and, more importantly, for the American people. As a woman in politics, I respect how she made history 16 years ago. She is a role model for women and girls all over the country.

But I also recognize that many of the candidates who won us this majority — men and women — promised the people of their districts that they would support someone new to lead our party in Washington. If — in their first vote as members of Congress — they fall victim to the pressure, intimidation and arm-twisting for which Washington is infamous, it won’t just be a broken campaign promise. It could very well cost them their seats two years from now.

Don’t get me wrong: There are plenty of votes worth risking your seat over. There are moments when we have to stick our necks out, take tough votes and sacrifice the safety of a Democratic majority for the sake of our country.

But losing your seat because the Washington Establishment ordered you to do as you’re told instead of doing what you promised? That’s self-sabotaging behavior at its worst.

Over the past week, we’ve heard Pelosi and her allies make the same arguments we hear any time she is challenged. Opposing her is sexist. No one has her experience or legislative knowledge.

There is truth, and fiction, to both of those points.

There are people who oppose Pelosi because she is a woman, and they are sexist. I am not one of them, nor is any other Democrat I know who wants new leadership. I want more women in leadership — in the House, in the Senate, in the White House, in the private sector, everywhere.

It is true that Pelosi is exceptionally experienced and knowledgeable. Of course, she is. But the idea that there is only one person capable of doing this job in a caucus of 230-plus members is absurd.

It may also be true that our party lacks an obvious candidate for succession, but that is a symptom of stagnant leadership. After 2010, when our party lost 63 seats, our leadership team remained the same. And in the eight years since, some of our most talented members, including some whom Pelosi had groomed to succeed her, left our ranks to pursue other opportunities.

Here’s another truth. Democrats are still blessed with many intelligent, talented leaders who are ready and able to provide strong leadership for the Democratic Party and the country. Some are women. Some are people of color. Some are young people. Some are all of the above.

But one thing that they all possess is a fresh perspective on how to lead the House.

And one thing they all must confront is the near-certain retribution they will face for daring to challenge the current hierarchy. Why bother confronting the status quo when you have such powerful forces aligned against you — those who could strip you of your committee assignments, stymie your fundraising or impede your ability to deliver for the people of your district?

In a word: hope.

The Democratic Party has always believed in the power of hope. One of our brightest stars actually ran a successful presidential campaign on the idea.

Fear and intimidation? Those are the tools that Republicans have used again and again to advance their agenda. Just ask the current occupant of the White House.

As Democrats look back at how we won our new House majority, let’s not forget what got us here: A promise of change. A focus on the future. Inspiring those who have grown sick of the status quo and are desperate for new leadership. A belief that tomorrow can be better than today if we set aside politics-as-usual and let the voices of the people be heard.

Those are the things we should all want in our next House speaker.

Read more:

E.J. Dionne Jr.: The supreme test of Nancy Pelosi’s wizardry

Donna F. Edwards: Don’t blow it, Democrats. There’s only one choice to be the next speaker.

Letters: Nancy Pelosi won’t be the right leader for Democrats