Ryan, Pelosi Grip on Power in Play in November Elections

(Bloomberg) -- The hold House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have on their party leadership roles could be the biggest casualties of a November election that may upend control of the chamber and remake the power structure in Washington.

Neither Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, nor Pelosi, a California Democrat, is at immediate risk of losing re-election at home or signaled they’re ready to give up their positions in the Capitol.

Ryan, Pelosi Grip on Power in Play in November Elections

But Ryan, 48, hasn’t firmly said he’s running for another term in the House, and he hasn’t been able to quash speculation in public and private about whether he wants to remain speaker, even if Republicans manage to hold their majority. At the same time, Pelosi, 78, is facing agitation among some younger Democrats for someone new to take charge.

Their decisions may be forced by voters if Republicans lose control of the House or their majority substantially shrinks, or if Democrats fall short of expectations for a sweeping victory in the midterm elections.

"We could be in for a lot of blood-letting, on both sides of the aisle," said Representative Gerald Connolly, a Virginia Democrat.

Gauging Support

Some lawmakers in lower tiers of leadership, and others hoping to advance, are starting to size up support among party colleagues, who will vote by secret ballot for their respective party leaders after the election. While discussion about leadership changes often takes place in election years, it’s begun much earlier than usual.

Kevin McCarthy of California and Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 and 3 House Republicans respectively, are quietly trying to rally support and increase their national profiles, said Republicans who spoke on condition of anonymity. Yet they’re not directly making a move for Ryan’s job.

Ryan, Pelosi Grip on Power in Play in November Elections

Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley of New York are letting colleagues know about their interest in being chosen as a Pelosi successor, according to lawmakers and staff members.

While Ryan’s campaign has filed paperwork that allows him to raise money, he has yet to file all the documents for a candidate. He has until June 1 to do so in the race for his Wisconsin seat. His future has been the subject of speculation in news reports and among Republicans. When asked at news conferences Ryan has given vague answers.

Ryan continues to aggressively raise money and campaign on behalf of Republicans. His joint fundraising committee, Team Ryan, said Monday it’s raised $11.1 million for the first quarter of 2018 to spread around among Republicans. So far in the election cycle, Ryan’s account has raised $54 million, putting him on pace to surpass the $65 million he raised through the committee for the 2016 elections. Ryan’s also been on the road, hitting more than 70 cities as part of his effort to promote the Republican message, according to the committee.

Possible Successors

If Ryan doesn’t continue as speaker next year, some Republicans see lawmakers coalescing behind Scalise, who survived a near-fatal shooting last year and is broadly popular. As the party’s lead vote-counter and persuader, Scalise has honed the art of giving lawmakers what they want in exchange for a vote.

However, Scalise may be opposed by some conservatives who say he didn’t do enough to back an immigration bill they supported earlier this year.

Scalise told Politico regarding the speaker’s job that he “wouldn’t rule it out,” with the caveat that he’s focused on working with President Donald Trump to “advance a conservative agenda.”

While McCarthy might seem like a natural replacement if Ryan were to leave, the No. 2 leadership job isn’t an automatic path to the top. The previous Republican speaker, John Boehner of Ohio, is the only majority leader in nearly 30 years to go on to become speaker, though with a stint as minority leader in between.

Trump Ally

McCarthy may get support from Trump. He has been a key Trump confidante and had a private dinner with the president and other Trump supporters last Wednesday. McCarthy was an early backer of Trump’s candidacy among House Republicans. As his party’s floor leader, McCarthy also been a key player in trying to move the president’s agenda.

McCarthy initially sought to replace Boehner in 2015 but dropped out. That set off a race to find someone else, leading to the selection of Ryan, the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, who was then serving as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Over the years, McCarthy has generated some ill will after turning down lawmakers’ requests for floor time or committee appointments, said a former GOP aide who worked closely with House leaders.

McCarthy’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Other Contenders

Along with McCarthy and Scalise, the No. 4 House Republican and highest ranking woman in the party, Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, is looking to move up. And leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, led by Mark Meadows of North Carolina, are letting colleagues know they want a seat at the leadership table.

On the Democratic side, Pelosi is an iconic political figure who in 2007 became the first woman speaker, only to lose the gavel when Republicans captured the House majority in the 2010 election. She remains a powerhouse party fundraiser, raising $141.5 million during the 2016 election cycle.

Some Democrats question whether Pelosi can connect with blue-collar and rural voters and as a result is a liability for the party. The GOP plans to feature her in ads in competitive races across the country, portraying her as the prototype of a San Francisco liberal. Some Democratic candidates running in Republican-leaning districts have distanced themselves from Pelosi.

Younger Democratic lawmakers, in particular, are seeking to replace their leaders, saying it’s time for a new generation to take over given an increasing age gap between most of the rank-and-file members and Pelosi and some of her top lieutenants, including Hoyer, who also is 78.

Potential Challenge

If Democrats win a majority in the House, lawmakers and congressional staff said they likely would return Pelosi to the speaker’s post, though even then she could first face a challenge within her caucus.

Some lawmakers said Crowley needs more experience before ascending to the top job. They also question how picking a New Yorker to succeed a Californian would help the party appeal more to voters in the middle of the country, when another New Yorker, Chuck Schumer, already leads Democrats in the Senate. But several Democrats said Crowley, 55, appears poised to gain most by Pelosi fatigue within the party caucus.

Crowley said Sunday that he would wait to see whether Pelosi wants to remain as the top House Democrat after the election. “But if Nancy Pelosi stays, I don’t -- I don’t see a scenario by which I would challenge her for that position,” he said on the “Fox News Sunday” program. He said he’s focused on helping Democrats win back the House.

Hoyer is being pitched as a party leader ready for the job, who can serve as a bridge to the next generation of Democratic House leaders, and go toe-to-toe with the president anywhere in the country.

A spokeswoman for Hoyer said he to is focused on the November election.

There have been failed challenges to Pelosi’s leadership before, including in 2016. But more members continue to publicly distance themselves. Newly elected Pennsylvania House member Conor Lamb is also among those who say they won’t support her as party leader.

Pelosi has given no signs that she intends to give up her position, regardless of the November election outcome. When asked about her future, she tells reporters it’ll be up to the chamber’s Democrats.

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