A high-profile critic of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi signaled on Monday that he is seeking to hold negotiations with her about changes to her leadership team, a development that makes her ascendancy to the speakership likelier as her opponents continue to struggle to recruit a challenger.
The decision by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) to shift his attention from Pelosi — by far the front-runner for the speakership and currently running unopposed — to potential discussions over the lower-ranking positions of House majority leader and House majority whip underscored Pelosi’s strength and the desire of her critics to reshuffle the leadership even if she holds the gavel.
Moulton, who served four tours of duty in Iraq as a Marine, is an informal leader of a group of centrist Democrats that has been organizing against Pelosi (D-Calif.) and pushing for new leadership across the party’s ranks in the House.
Pelosi, however, has given no indication that she is open to talks with Moulton about a deal for the support of moderate critics or that she would ever waver in her support for her longtime deputies, Reps. Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) and James E. Clyburn (S.C.), who are in line to hold the No. 2 and No. 3 posts in the House next year.
Still, associates of Moulton, 40, said he is hoping to sit down with Pelosi to discuss possible terms for the support of his group, in particular possibly rallying behind a younger member to be House majority leader or House majority whip, with an emphasis on bringing in a new generation to the leadership in the wake of the Democrats’ sweeping gains in the midterm elections.
In such a scenario, Pelosi would have to usher out either Hoyer, 79, or Clyburn, 78, from their campaign for the leadership in the coming days and get behind another candidate to secure the votes of the “rebels” who are opposing her bid for speaker.
Moulton has not signed a letter of support for Hoyer, who has long been allied with moderates and suburban members inside the House Democratic conference. And Pelosi critics have noted with interest that 12 years ago, Pelosi backed a challenge to Hoyer by then-Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) for the majority leader post, which Hoyer ultimately won.
“Leader Pelosi wants to boil this down to a personal argument, but this is so much bigger than her,” Moulton said in a statement to The Washington Post. “It’s about the entire, stagnant three-person leadership team and having a serious conversation about promoting leaders who reflect the future of our caucus.”
House Democratic aides involved with the moderate group added that Moulton and others close to him are also willing to negotiate with her on another front: the length of her speakership.
“If she can publicly guarantee that she’ll only be there for one year as a transitional figure, and that there will be elections for the leadership next fall, some people are more than willing to talk through that at this point,” one House Democratic adviser said.
With a critical party vote scheduled for Wednesday, Moulton’s latest gambit is both a recognition of Pelosi’s ability to brush back her critics and the eagerness of moderates to wring something out of their standoff and at least spark debate over Hoyer and Clyburn, according to multiple people involved in the discussions.
Moulton told a crowd in his district last week that if House Democrats react to their victory in this month’s midterm elections “by reinstalling the same status quo leadership team that we’ve had in place since 2006, then we’re failing the American people.”
Pelosi will need to win a majority of House members when a floor vote for speaker is called Jan. 3. Fifteen Democrats have signed a letter vowing to oppose her, with another four who have said in statements that they oppose her, although that number has dropped in recent days as Pelosi has won over a number of her critics.
Currently Democrats are on track to enjoy a 16-seat majority, though that number could grow as several uncalled races are settled.
Moulton has been criticized by Pelosi supporters for organizing against the veteran Democrat. Liberal activists have floated a primary challenge to the two-term Massachusetts congressman, and he has been criticized by some constituents at town halls.
Mike DeBonis and Felicia Sonmez contributed.