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Pelosi announces run for minority leader

By Dana Bash and Deirdre Walsh, CNN
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Pelosi running for minority leader
  • The speaker feels her work is not finished
  • Some moderates say they won't support Pelosi
  • Rep. James Clyburn wants to be minority whip in the new Congress

Washington (CNN) -- Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said Friday she will run for minority leader in the new Congress, appears to be getting tacit support from the White House.

The speaker's Democratic colleagues, meanwhile, began lining up in support or opposition to her candidacy.

"Many of our colleagues have called with their recommendations on how to continue our fight for the middle class, and have encouraged me to run for House Democratic Leader," Pelosi said in a written statement. "Based on those discussions, and driven by the urgency of protecting health care reform, Wall Street reform, and Social Security and Medicare, I have decided to run."

A senior administration official told CNN that President Barack Obama doesn't see it as his place to encourage or discourage Pelosi or anyone else from getting into a leadership race, because it's internal politics for congressional Democrats.

But the official said the president will react positively to Pelosi's bid, because she was a stalwart supporter of his agenda over the last two years. In addition, the White House is pleased she would try to protect health care reform and Wall Street reform.

What's Pelosi's future in the House?

"The White House does not comment or get involved in leadership elections," said a White House statement issued late in the afternoon. "But as the president has said before, he appreciates the work of the speaker and the entire House Democratic leadership team, who have been great partners in moving the country forward. He looks forward to working with them in the years to come."

A Democratic source close to Pelosi told CNN that the speaker "informed" the White House of her decision to run for Democratic leader, but "didn't consult with them beforehand."

Pelosi, who initially announced her intentions via Twitter, was going to meet with her heir apparent, Republican Rep. John Boehner, on Friday afternoon, a Democratic aide said. Boehner had no comment.

A longtime Pelosi strategist, who spoke to CNN on condition of not being identified talking about a confidential conversation, gave some insight into her decision.

"She just told me she wasn't finished," the strategist said, "and until the effects of what they have done take hold and Americans are back to work -- she has to get to work."

In the wake of Tuesday's Republican takeover of the House, Republicans will move into the majority positions in the new Congress, which convenes in January, while Democrats assume the minority positions.

Shortly after Pelosi's announcement, House Majority Whip James Clyburn announced that he would be running for minority whip. Pelosi's No. 2 man, Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer -- who is widely considered to be more moderate -- will "spend the next few days talking to [House] members and getting their thoughts on him being minority whip," according to his spokeswoman, Katie Grant.

A senior Democratic source told CNN that Hoyer is "in a nice way saying he is going to run against Clyburn."

Moderate Democratic Rep. Dan Boren of Oklahoma was the latest to urge Pelosi to step aside and not run for House minority leader. He said he would support a more centrist candidate.

"I cannot in good conscience support Nancy Pelosi as our leader," Boren told CNN. "I think that it is important for the Democratic Party to move in a new direction for the sake of our country. Democrats and Republicans need leaders who are going to work together."

Boren's public pressure for Pelosi to go follows similar comments from Democratic Reps. Heath Schuler of North Carolina and Jim Matheson of Utah, who also have said they would prefer a new, more moderate Democratic leader.

"I think based on the outcome of this election, we should all acknowledge what the American people said -- and they are looking for change. And I think when you, as a political party, suffer losses of historic proportions, it makes sense to change things up," Matheson told CNN. "Therefore, I don't think she should be running for leader."

Rep. Jason Altmire, a moderate Democrat from a conservative district in western Pennsylvania, agreed. "I am not voting for Nancy Pelosi," he said.

"I don't get the sense that Speaker Pelosi understands what happened on Tuesday. We lost middle America. The Democratic party got crushed," Altmire told CNN.

He noted that many of his fellow Democrats in districts near his lost their seats.

Despite his opposition, Altmire -- who voted against major pieces of Democratic legislation, including the health care bill -- said Pelosi will easily be victorious in her quest to be minority leader.

"Make sure she knows that we will support her," said the e-mail.

"If she runs, she will win," said one senior Democratic source.

A progressive Democrat told CNN he had talked to many of his colleagues about the situation in the past few days.

"It's fair to say that for most progressives, their visceral place was that Nancy deserves to be the leader if she wants to be, but no one would have burst into tears if she decided not to," said the congressman, who did not want to go on the record in order to protect private conversations.

The Pelosi supporter said she should not be blamed for the losses. Rather the setback was the result of a bad economy and, the supporter said, an ineffective job by the White House in selling Democratic achievements.

While Pelosi's tireless fundraising has built a reservoir of support among Democratic lawmakers, several sources within the party said there are a number of progressive Democrats also who do not want her to run. Meanwhile, Rep. John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat who had been a staunch supporter of Pelosi, told a local television station that he wants Pelosi to step down as Democratic leader.

"I know that there is some thought that Nancy Pelosi may stay around," Yarmuth said Thursday. "As good a leader as she has been, I don't think she's the right leader to take us forward."

Shuler is considering challenging Pelosi if she runs, according to a number of Democratic sources. Because of the makeup of the Democratic caucus, few think he would win.

Several Democratic sources say they worry about this dragging out, especially given how public the Democrats' dispute over Pelosi's future is becoming.

On Thursday, Pelosi told the Huffington Post that she is getting a positive response from Democratic lawmakers because she has "kept the caucus together" and increased Democratic numbers in 2006 and 2008.

Matheson told CNN one of the political concerns is that it will be harder to recruit candidates to run in 2012 with Pelosi as the Democratic leader -- especially those who just lost and may want to try to get their old seats back.

Democratic Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. of Illinois said he would support Pelosi's bid. "We're in a political storm, but we don't need to adopt an 'any leader in a storm' mentality," Jackson said in a statement issued Friday.

After Tuesday's losses, moderate Democrats are now a very small part of the Democratic caucus. The bigger question, according to multiple Democratic sources, is what Pelosi's fellow progressives want her to do. Americans United for Change, a progressive political organization, sent an e-mail notice to its members Friday morning asking them to send personal notes to Pelosi urging her to stay.

CNN's Evan Glass, Xuan Thai and Ed Henry contributed to this report.