Who Runs the House Democrats in 2011?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 21 2010 2:43 PM

Who Runs the House Democrats in 2011?

In a conversation with a House Republican today, the question of Republican power struggles after the elections came up. The Republican dismissed talk of John Boehner losing the right to become Speaker of the House if a wave brings in a bunch of new members with Tea Party platforms. The more interesting question: What happens with the Democrats?

Liberals have had it pretty good on the House side since 2002, when they elevated Nancy Pelosi to the leadership. They won two elections with a liberal member from San Francisco leading their party, and laughed off Republican attempts to make her some kind of polarizing, Gingrichian figure. But if they win the House, how does she survive? She can, I think, depending on where the losses come and how deep they are. If the party mostly loses the open Blue Dog seats and swing seats it grabbed in the past two cycles, you've got a more liberal Democratic caucus. Will they defenestrate Pelosi? Why would they, when they did everything they could and the Senate Democrats screwed up their agenda? Outside of Congress, I think you see a spat between progressive backers of Pelosi and a rising chorus of pundits and DLC-ers proclaiming the start of the Steny Hoyer era. But how excited can Democrats get about Steny Hoyer?

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The other, maybe more interesting scenario: What if the Democrats hold the House by one or two votes. Keep in mind, some of the Democrats who survive will be Blue Dogs from quirky seats, like Gene Taylor in Mississippi and Dan Boren in Oklahoma. By election day there will be multiple survivors or new candidates who were goaded into trashing Pelosi on the campaign trail. A Democratic victory would be miraculous, but could Pelosi win another term?

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.