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Pelosi gets an earful from fellow Democrats

From Evan Glass and Deirdre Walsh, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Democratic House members get a chance to speak out in a meeting with Pelosi
  • Several blamed her for their losses
  • Others credited her with health care reform and with unifying House Democrats

Washington (CNN) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and rank-and-file House Democrats met for the first time Tuesday since suffering huge losses two weeks ago.

According to members in the closed-door meeting, several defeated Democrats blamed Pelosi for their losses and suggested she step aside as leader.

The meeting lasted for more than four hours and came on the eve of the House Democrats' leadership elections.

The members who urged Pelosi to step down included Reps. Allen Boyd of Florida and Travis Childers of Mississippi, both of whom lost their re-election bids.

Pelosi did not seem rattled by the criticism, telling reporters after the meeting that it was "wonderful."

Several Democrats also said the overwhelming majority of Pelosi's colleagues spoke in favor of her tenure, praising her for passage of landmark health care legislation and citing it as their greatest accomplishment.

Ohio freshman Democrat Rep John Boccieri, who also lost his election, told CNN he thought Democratic losses were more about the economy than about Pelosi.

"Folks are still unhappy and uneasy about the economic anxiety out there and they are going to take it out on the people in charge," Boccieri said.

Boyd and Childers, both defeated members of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition, will not have the opportunity to vote in Wednesday's party leadership election. But fellow Blue Dog member Heath Shuler of North Carolina said he will run against Pelosi for the top job.

Schuler made his challenge official Tuesday, following through on his pledge to run for minority leader if Pelosi refused to relinquish the leadership position.

"We should be going in a different direction.," Shuler said.

Even though he admitted he doesn't have the votes to win, Shuler said his challenge to Pelosi is meant to send a message that Democrats need moderates to rebuild the party.

"We have to be able to recruit in moderate districts to win back the House and that's where we have to be successful in order to win in 2012," Shuler said.

Democrats were allowed the chance to talk openly about the recent election after Rep. David Wu of Oregon offered a motion to allow everyone five minutes to speak.

Will Rep. Shuler challenge Pelosi?
Pelosi 'the face that defeated us'

Some Democrats, assuming Pelosi will win the leadership election Wednesday, are exploring the idea of trimming her influence within the caucus. One proposal would rescind the top party leader's ability to appoint chairs of key committees, namely the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which coordinates the re-election efforts of House Democrats, and the Steering Committee, which assigns committee assignments. Backers of the proposal insist these jobs should be elected positions.

"It is basically diluting the power at the very top, making sure people from places like Oklahoma have a say in the Democratic party," said Rep. Dan Boren, a moderate Democrat from Oklahoma. "We are tired of just the left and right coasts controlling the caucus. It is time for us to come together and have a centrist message."

Pelosi and her allies, though, believe that despite the loss of more than 60 seats, she is the right person to again lead them to victory.

"She took over a caucus that had lost five consecutive elections at a time when people thought we'd never win again. She brought us two victories," Rep. Rob Andrews of New Jersey said of the 2006 and 2008 elections. "There is a broad consensus that she is the person to unify us and build a consensus and bring us back."

 
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