Love her or hate her, Nancy Pelosi is a rare legend in her own time — a figure who is at once historic and still very relevant.
The highest-ranking woman in the history of American government, Pelosi has twice helped lead her caucus from the minority to the majority and is fairly regarded as the best congressional vote-counter of her generation.
But now, with the California congresswoman trying to return to the speakership, a small band of her Democratic colleagues would rather relegate her to the past than allow her to lead them again.
The fight is very real.
It’s a battle consuming House Democrats in the wake of the midterm elections, and it is one that is wrapped up in the ideological, gender, racial and generational politics of a moment in which the party is both optimistic about its resurgence and terrified of the possibility that its gains will be washed away by President Donald Trump and the GOP in two years.
But it’s also increasingly entangled in personal animus — the disdain that a handful of harsh Pelosi critics have for her and the rising frustration that many rank-and-file Democrats have with them for forcing the party into an ugly debate on the heels of its biggest House victory since the post-Watergate class of 1974.
Some in the party believe that Pelosi, who has demonstrated her ability as both a partisan warrior and backroom deal-maker, is the perfect leader at a precarious time for Democrats.
“No one has her legislative chops or wealth of experience,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. “She knows how to exhort, inspire, cajole, intimidate and persuade. She never lost a vote on the floor as speaker. She worked tirelessly to bring us out of the wilderness. She has earned it.”
Others see her potential promotion as a step backward — a message to the country that Democrats aren’t agents of change — and a surefire attack point against newly elected freshmen in their first re-election bids.
“Last week, the American people sent a clear message that we need a new approach and new leaders in Congress,” Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who lost to Pelosi in a minority leader race two years ago, said Wednesday. “It’s time for us to listen.”
Between returning incumbents and incoming freshmen, there are roughly two dozen Democrats who have publicly indicated they will or could vote against Pelosi. For some of the newcomers, distancing themselves from the California Democrat — who was a staple of Republican campaign ads and talking points across the country — was a matter of political survival.