WASHINGTON — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi defeated Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan to retain her post as the top elected Democrat in the House during a closed-door meeting Wednesday.
The final vote tally was 134 to 63 for Pelosi, meaning she matched her prediction that she’d retain the support of two-thirds of House Democrats.
Immediately after the news broke, Ryan congratulated Pelosi in a statement, and said he ran because “November taught us that changes were necessary.”
“I am proud that my bid for Democratic Leader pushed our members to have these tough family discussions about our future and how we win back the majority in 2018,” Ryan said in the statement. “I am also pleased to see that Leader Pelosi will adopt my proposal to expand leadership by creating a position for Freshman members and to bring back the power to the Committees by creating Vice-Chair/Vice- Ranking Member positions.”
Pelosi, who has run the House Democratic caucus for the last 14 years, was expected to remain the top elected leader, but she’s fending off a challenge from Ryan, who says Democrats failed to connect to people who backed Donald Trump and it’s time to shakeup the leadership.
“I think I could make a big difference pulling those Trump voters back because those are the voters who voted for me,” Ryan told reporters Tuesday evening.
House Democrats voted with a secret ballot contest. Although there has been some grumbling in recent years about the refusal of top House Democratic leaders, who are mostly in their 70’s, to provide chances for newer members, this race features Ryan taking those grievances public.
Both Ryan and Pelosi called, emailed and met with their colleagues to make their pitches on why they should lead a demoralized caucus, which is still searching for a strategy for dealing with President-elect Trump and a strengthened Republican-led Congress next year.
Ryan, 43, said Pelosi, a California Democrat who is 76, has limited appeal in the heartland and other working-class areas where Democrats lost badly this fall.
For the most part, Pelosi had refused to engage in a back in forth with Ryan, but on Tuesday she fired back at the Ohio Democrat, who was a frequent surrogate for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in his home state, telling the Huffington Post in an interview, “he didn’t even carry his district for Hillary Clinton.”
The Minority Leader insisted she had “strong support from our friends in the unions, including steelworkers, which I guess are his area.”
She brushed off his criticism that she can’t appeal to voters in rural areas and on conservative media outlets, saying, “You know what? If you want to come interview me, I’m happy to answer your questions about how we go forward. I’m not going to pay attention to, ‘I can’t step in a union hall.’ I’m a woman of steel in there. … I’m constantly invited by the unions to go to their meetings. That’s just not, it’s just not true.”
Ryan said he agrees with Pelosi’s strategy to fight Republicans’ efforts to overhaul entitlement programs like Medicare, but he said that “if I am leader we will be talking about jobs, we will be talking about wages, we will talking about the economy, we will be talking about pensions — bread and butter issues that people in rural issues and in industrial Midwest and down south care very much about. We’ve gotten off that message.”
Ryan had about a dozen public supporters within the caucus going into the meeting, which will include over 190 members in the next Congress, but still claims he is “within striking distance.”
Many of Pelosi’s allies say she has deep support and her record-breaking fundraising skills are a quality members need to be competitive in 2018. She has already proposed some reforms to caucus rules to respond to the push from newer members that there are few opportunities to advance.
Michigan Democratic Rep Dan Kildee told CNN before the meeting he’s backing Pelosi, and praised her for leading the effort to deal with the contaminated water crisis in his hometown of Flint, Michigan. But he said it was good there was a contest about the party’s message, telling CNN, “I think this is a good debate for us to have.”