House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is 78 years old. She has been in Congress for 31 years, and has led Democrats in the lower chamber since 2002.
A substantial number of younger Democrats in the House feel her time has come and gone. But Pelosi isn’t the only Democrat House leader rapidly approaching 80. Democrat Whip Steny Hoyer is 79 and Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn is 78. Unfortunately for their cause, there appears to be no fresh faces ready to step in and take the reins away from these elder statesmen and women.
Youth Not Served
Democrats desperately need a turnover in congressional leadership and a passing of the baton to a younger generation. But who has distinguished himself in the ranks enough to potentially become speaker if Democrats do indeed re-take the House in November?
“You can’t beat somebody with nobody,” a former senior Democratic aide bluntly told The Hill, speaking of those calling for Pelosi’s replacement. “And they have nobody right now.”
The Hill notes that new Democrat House members in recent years have grown frustrated by the inability to enact change within the party dynamic due to the triumvirate of warhorses at the top. Such sentiments give more evidence of what has been the biggest problem throughout the party for several years running: The clinging to power of aging veteran pols and the inability or outright refusal to cultivate younger members for leadership positions.
It’s quite remarkable actually that a young first-term senator like Barack Obama could capture the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, win two terms in the White House, and still completely fail to usher in a cadre of young difference-makers in his party’s ranks.
Democrats are paying for that now. “There can’t be a race when no one has declared their candidacy,” veteran Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee , D-Texas, said of potential challengers to Pelosi.
Many saw Rep. Joe Crowley as a likely candidate to eventually replace Pelosi but Crowley was stunned by newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in his primary race.
Thus Democrats experienced the unusual scenario in which an entrenched veteran leader that many would like to see toppled actually had her own personal power position made more secure due to the shocking upset of another incumbent by a political neophyte.
Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, who unsuccessfully challenged Pelosi in 2016, has considered taking another shot. Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts has toyed with the idea as well. Pelosi scornfully dismisses both of them as “inconsequential.” “They don’t have a following in our caucus. None,” she told Rolling Stone in a July interview.
“I think there are lots of people who have worked very hard, and are more in line for what will happen one of these times,” Pelosi said of the two young would-be competitors.”But they’re not to be considered [among] who those people would be.”
Ryan is 45. Moulton is 39.
“I have great support in my caucus,” she continued. “I’m not worried about that. And I’m certainly not worried about them.” Talk about not encouraging young Democrats! And here lies the problem. Nancy Pelosi has made it clear she won’t be going away anytime soon. Instead of helping to groom a successor as she closes in on octogenarian status, she is digging in her claws to cling even more tenaciously to power. “I have a following in the country that’s unsurpassed by anybody, unless they’re running for president,” she defiantly told the Associated Press.
For Democrats who understand that the party must move on from the tired old faces that have dominated their party for too long, that’s not the kind of statement they want to hear.