Conservative House Democrats Tell Candidates to Have Pelosi Answer Ready

(Bloomberg) -- A group of conservative House Democrats is warning the party’s candidates in Republican-leaning districts to have a ready answer for one question: will you support House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi for speaker?

“If they don’t answer that question correctly then they’re written off,” said Representative Kurt Schrader, an Oregon Democrat who is the co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition’s political action committee.

Schrader didn’t say what the correct response should be. But he said the "vast majority" of 20 candidates backed by the Blue Dog political action committee have committed to not voting for Pelosi for speaker if Democrats win a majority of House seats in the November election.

Pelosi has been the party’s leader in the House for more than a decade and for most of that period GOP candidates and affiliated groups have used the San Francisco liberal as a foil to motivate Republican voters.

Support for Pelosi as speaker has become a litmus for Democrats running in the most liberal and the most conservative districts. For many in those situations, the answer is either negative or noncommittal. It’s almost never a firm yes. Although she’s survived previous challenges to her leadership, she’s almost certain to face more opposition from newcomers if Democrats win the House.

Revival Hopes

Electing Democrats in conservative districts is particularly important for the Blue Dog Coalition. The group is attempting to rebuild after hitting its peak membership in 2008, when it had 54 members and Democrats controlled the House. Pelosi was the speaker.

When the party lost power in 2010 most of the casualties were conservative Democrats from the South and Midwest. Now there are 18 Democrats in the group.

The group says that it’s not currently backing anyone for leadership, but that whomever they do pick needs to be able to manage expectations and decentralize power in the caucus, similar to the demands that the most conservative Republicans are making on their leaders.

The Blue Dogs also are seeking to stop what they see as the party’s leftward drift. That shift has been evident in a handful of upset victories by progressives in primaries, including Kara Eastman’s defeat of former Representative Brad Ashford, a Blue Dog, in a primary for a Nebraska House seat earlier this year.

"Whether it’s Pelosi or whoever our speaker’s going to be, you’re going to see that person play a very important role," said Representative Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat. The next leader needs to be strong enough tamp down "the more progressive folks to make sure that we come up with something that’s good for all of us."

Blue Dog leaders say they want a Democratic-controlled House to avoid a push to impeach President Donald Trump and politically motivated oversight of the administration. Schrader said it’s not their job to "go after President Trump" and he’s advised all of their candidates to not be anti-Trump.

"A lot of my voters are pro-Trump and Blue Dogs will generally work with him when he’s representing our districts and be against him when he’s not," he said. "We’re looking to empower Congress, not take revenge on the president."

If the Democrats take back control of the House with a narrow majority the Blue Dogs say they could be an influential voting bloc. Schrader said he expects the 18-member group to grow into the mid- to high-20s, enough to influence a vote on House speaker.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.