Trio of young House Democrats pressure Pelosi to give up power


    Panel: Democrats debate new leadership


Panel: Democrats debate new leadership 06:23

Story highlights

  • House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was re-elected Wednesday to keep her top House leadership position
  • She saw opposition in the form of Rep. Tim Ryan, who ran to unseat her

(CNN)House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi beat back a challenge Wednesday to keep her top leadership post.

But three first-term House Democrats continued what became a steady and public push over three weeks to decentralize the power structure in the House Democratic Caucus and forced the veteran leader to loosen her grip.
"We have to get away from one person anointing people and we need to open the tent and let more members who want to contribute more, who want to be more involved, who have great ideas, have a lot of energy -- give them an opportunity," Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York, who was elected in 2014, told CNN.
    Rice along with Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Ruben Gallego of Arizona, bucked their leaders in the weeks following the election and created some pressure on Pelosi, who has run the caucus since 2003, to alter the ways things get decided. First they led the charge to delay the leadership election, which was initially set for mid-November to happen this week. That gave an opening to Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan to mount a bid for the top slot.
    Ryan lost Wednesday, but after that vote the same group continued their campaign to make their leader open up opportunities to other newer members to shape the party's message and legislative strategy. Perhaps as a way to get ahead of the effort, Pelosi released a letter hours after she won re-election to her post announcing she was on board the changes.
    By Thursday morning the entire caucus voted for new rules making the top political post -- chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- and several other leadership slots elected rather than appointed jobs.
    "The vital efforts of the leaders in these positions will be strengthened by the mandate of their colleagues, and I am eager to partner with them to tackle the work before our country and our caucus," Pelosi said in a statement after the meeting.
    Moulton told CNN it may seem like "inside baseball" to most outside of Congress but "the whole point that we've been pushing is we need more voices in the Democratic party, we need newer voices, we need younger voices, we need more diverse voices."
    The new structure strips Pelosi of the ability to install her own allies and now there will be six additional seats at the leadership table that are open to a caucus wide vote instead of handpicked by the minority leader.
    "That's huge because it used to be her friends got these jobs," Moulton stressed.
    The most important and high profile shift is the decision to open up the role at the DCCC. The California Democrat has had a very hands-on role with the campaign arm -- helping to recruit candidates, chart strategy, and of course raise tens of millions of dollars.
    Pelosi has handpicked member for this job. The caucus ultimately had to approve whomever she nominated, but there was never any attempt to challenge whoever she tapped for the role.
    There have been rumblings among House Democrats, even before the 2016 election, about the inability for members to move up or make a significant impact on party strategy. Some of the younger and rising stars, like former DCCC Chair Chris Van Hollen opted to leave the House and run for an open Senate seat in his home state of Maryland.
    But the frustrations about Pelosi have largely been private discussions, with members reluctant to criticize the powerful leader.
    After Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump, and the hopes of double digit gains in the House evaporated for House Democrats, this group of younger member felt they had nothing to lose by going public.
    "You can't punish me any more than being in the minority," Rice told CNN. Asked if she was concerned about blowback about her criticism of Pelosi's leadership style, Rice didn't seem worried and noted that she won her district by 60% of the vote. "You cut people like me out at your own peril, so we'll see."
    Pelosi allies say the shift to embrace rules changes is a response to something the California Democrat does all the time. She's constantly taking the pulse of her members and diplomatically finds ways to respond.
    Moulton said he viewed her letter agreeing to the changes ahead of the vote as "a great step in the right direction" and said he worked collaboratively with her on the language to the rules.
    Other changes made Thursday include adding a representative elected by the freshman class to be added to the leadership team, as well as another position for a member who has been in Congress for less than ten years. Instead of one appointed leader to run the caucus' messaging strategy, three elected members will share that duty now.
    Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-New Mexico, whom Pelosi already announced she wanted to remain at the DCCC Chair after running in this cycle is now running for the post. It's unclear if anyone will challenge him.