Missouri U.S. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver says House Democrats need new leadership, but not just yet.
He voted to retain Nancy Pelosi as caucus leader, who barely received the required two-thirds majority to hold onto the spot.
Cleaver thinks the party needs Pelosi with President-elect Donald Trump signaling a willingness to dismantle programs such as Medicare and the Affordable Care Act. “Those are the things we’re going to have to stand up and challenge” said Cleaver. “And I believe that has the experience to fight it.”
Trump’s nominee to head the agency which oversees Medicare and the Affordable Care Act is a fierce opponent of both programs. Representative Tom Price (R- Ga.) has been tapped by the incoming President to be Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Cleaver thinks it would be unwise to elect younger, untested leadership with the fiery Trump set to take office.
Long term however, Cleaver says the party needs to focus on regaining the House majority by taking back seats it’s lost to the GOP. “If we lose all of the members of the Democratic caucus who are elected from what many would call rural districts, we’re not going to have the majority. We just can’t do it.”
Cleaver thinks younger Democratic lawmakers need to start strategizing about how Democrats can not only take back the House, but retain control of the chamber. He said “Democrats have to figure out how we can keep Ike Skelton in the House of Representatives”, referring to the former 17 term Congressman from Missouri’s 4th District. Skelton, who was defeated in the 2010 election by Republican Vicky Hartzler, died in 2013.
Although he thinks Pelosi needs to stay in place for now, Cleaver thinks House Democrats will be doomed to failure if they don’t eventually find new leadership. “If we don’t change, we will be in the midst of a permanent destruction of the Democratic caucus. If you’re not planning for winning the House, you’re planning for losing the House. If we continue to lose the House, it is the demise of the Democratic caucus.”
Cleaver thinks a new candidate to lead the Democratic caucus will emerge before the 2018 election. Pelosi narrowly won the required two thirds majority to stay in power Wednesday over insurgent challenger Tim Ryan of Ohio.
For her part, Pelosi announced Thursday that the caucus approved changes to expand leadership positions to include a newly elected House Democrat as well as a member who has been in office ten years or less.