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Sunday 25 February 2018

US House Democrats re-elect Nancy Pelosi as leader

Ms Pelosi celebrated her win (AP)
Ms Pelosi celebrated her win (AP)

US House Democrats have re-elected Nancy Pelosi as their leader, opting for the status quo despite widespread frustration over the party's direction in the wake of its election defeat.

In the secret ballot vote, 63 representatives backed Ms Pelosi's opponent, Ohio's Tim Ryan - by far the largest defection Ms Pelosi has suffered since she began leading House Democrats in 2002.

The California representative had declared ahead of time that more than two-thirds of the caucus was supporting her - and she won almost exactly two-thirds with 134 votes.

The result is a testament to her ability to hang onto power even in dark days for Democrats, as they confront a Washington which will be fully controlled by the Republicans next year.

Supporters said the 76-year-old Ms Pelosi was their best bet to confront Donald Trump from a defensive crouch in the minority after Democrats picked up only half a dozen seats in the House, far fewer than anticipated.

Republicans are on track to hold at least 240 seats in the House next year, while Democrats will have 194.

Ms Pelosi herself, appearing elated after her victory, pledged that Democrats have won elections before and would do so again, even though they have been in the minority in the House since 2010.

"I have a special spring in my step today because this opportunity is a special one, to lead the House Democrats, bring everyone together as we go forward," she said.

Of President-elect Trump, she said: "Where we can engage, we will. Where we need to oppose, we will."

Ms Pelosi also disputed the suggestion that she might be concerned about the defections she suffered.

"They weren't defections, I had two-thirds of the vote," Ms Pelosi said, repeating "two thirds, two thirds" to a group of assembled reporters.

For their part, Mr Ryan and his backers insisted after the vote that they had won a victory in sending a message to Ms Pelosi about the significant desire for change among House Democrats.

"Somebody had to do something," said Mr Ryan, a seven-term representative who before now had largely been a back-bencher.

"Our prospects have improved just because of this conversation."

Yet the Democrats' marginalised status was evident as Mr Ryan struggled to answer a question about who would lead the party forward, before concluding: "We're all going to participate in leading the party."

Leadership elections were originally scheduled to be held before Thanksgiving but were delayed to give Democrats more time to discuss and process the election results and consider a path forward.

Ms Pelosi's victory came only after she promised some changes to assuage concerns in her caucus, including adding a member of the freshmen class to her leadership team and creating a handful of other titled positions.

But her proposals do little to ensure new blood at the very top or change the seniority system that has key committees led by representatives in their 80s at a moment when the party needs to defend Barack Obama's health care law and other initiatives.

Ms Pelosi's top two lieutenants were also re-elected, both by acclimation. Maryland representative Steny Hoyer, 77, will continue to serve as Democratic whip, and South Carolina's Jim Clyburn, 76, will continue in the number three spot as assistant leader.

"We need someone who is battle-tested," Debbie Dingell told fellow Democrats in nominating Ms Pelosi. "We need our leader to be seasoned, tough."

But some House Democrats could not hide their disappointment at the outcome.

"I am deeply disappointed today as the House Democratic Caucus has decided to double down on its failed strategy of recent years," said Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

"It is obvious the current strategy doesn't work; millions of Americans don't feel that our party represents them any more and they've said so, loudly, in multiple elections."


Press Association

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