nancy pelosi james comey composite

Story highlights

FBI director James Comey recently sent a letter to Congress related to Hillary Clinton's emails

Few Democrats believed that they could pick up the 30 seats they needed to take control of the House

CNN  — 

The top House Democrat directly blamed FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday for damaging the party’s chances to retake control of the House, calling his letter about the Clinton email investigation days before the election “like a Molotov cocktail.”

“He became the leading Republican political operative in the country – wittingly or unwittingly,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said of Comey’s move to publicly inform Congress in a letter that the FBI was reviewing new emails that could be pertinent to the bureau’s probe of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. On Sunday, Comey said they’d reviewed the emails and wouldn’t change their earlier recommendation reached this summer against criminal charges for Clinton, but Democratic leaders said Tuesday it remains to be seen if the damage was already done.

Pelosi told reporters at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters that Democrats’ ability to win back the majority of the House depended on Clinton performing well in the final stretch of the campaign, but said “when her numbers narrowed so did that prospect for the House and for the Senate.” She said because the Senate has fewer races, “hopefully they can sustain it.”

RELATED: Control of Congress up for grabs Tuesday

Pressed whether Comey was personally responsible for tilting the election away from congressional Democrats, Pelosi again pointed to his letter as the leading reason her party could fall short, saying, “we’ll see,” but added, “he certainly made it more of an obstacle, but we hope to overcome it. But it’s difficult.”

Few Democrats believed that they could pick up the 30 seats they needed to take control of the House, but earlier this fall when Clinton’s lead over Donald Trump entered double digits some believed a wave election could put enough candidates in a position to reach that threshold.

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-New Mexico, the chair of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, said the impact of the letter was being felt in “more than a handful of races across the country” and pledged to release details Wednesday.

The House Minority Leader said the release of Comey’s letter came as polls showed a majority of Republicans saying the election was rigged and it was “like a Molotov cocktail just thrown into a very explosive arena. He shouldn’t have done that.”

As to whether Comey could remain in his position, Pelosi said she had a “high regard” for him serving in “other capacities.”

She didn’t directly say he should step down from the FBI, but said “it might be just too hot in there,” saying that “if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen, and he obviously was feeling a lot of heat from Republicans.”

Wearing a white pant suit with a purple necklace and heels, Pelosi told reporters she was donning “suffragette colors” to mark the election of a “the first woman president of the United States, Hillary Clinton.”

RELATED: Hillary Clinton’s ‘Pantsuit Nation’ suits up for Election Day