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Anti-Pelosi Effort Raises Questions for Moulton

November 25, 2018

Sixteen representatives and representatives-elect, led in their opposition by U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, signed a letter Monday pledging not to support House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for another term as speaker of the House.

Since then, the landscape has changed. One of the letter’s signers publicly changed his mind two days later. U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, who seemed for a time the most likely Democrat to challenge for the gavel, announced she would vote for Pelosi, leaving those calling for new leadership with no figurehead. And on Monday, Moulton faced sharp criticism from pro-Pelosi protesters in his own district.

As a result, experts and commentators are wondering: where, exactly, is Moulton going with this?

“If you lose this fight, where do you go from here?” said UMass Lowell political science professor John Cluverius. “What’s step two? What does a House caucus that’s not led by Nancy Pelosi look like, and how is that superior? That’s the argument that I don’t really see yet.”

Moulton’s office declined to make him available for an interview last week, but he said at a Monday town hall that he believes the midterm election results showed a desire for change.

“This election was a call for change,” Moulton said at the town hall, according to Politico. “I think if our party answers that call, that call for change with the amazing victories we had across this country, by just saying we’re going to reinstall the same status quo leadership we’ve had since 2006, for over 10 years, I don’t think we’re answering the call of the American people.”

On Monday, Moulton and 15 other current and incoming members of the House -- including fellow Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch -- sent colleagues a letter announcing they would not back Pelosi for speaker. One representative who signed, Brian Higgins of New York, then said on Wednesday he would be voting for Pelosi.

A key characteristic of the anti-Pelosi push is its broad messaging. Moulton and others call for change, but their criticisms tend not to highlight ideological or strategic differences. Groups in the House that might seem most open to a new leader, such as the Medicare-for-All caucus, have not signed on with Moulton’s effort. U.S. Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, one of the most vocal anti-establishment figures of the new class, tweeted that she would vote for Pelosi as long as she “remains the most progressive candidate for Speaker.”

Pelosi also remains, despite the opposition, the only Democrat officially running for the speakership. Fudge, who represents Ohio’s 11th Congressional District, had floated the idea of challenging Pelosi, but announced this week she would back the minority leader. That vacuum has left opponents to the effort frustrated.

“He really isn’t putting forward a plan,” said Bambi Snodgrass, a Topsfield resident who helped organize protests at Moulton’s town hall on Monday. “He’s not saying, ‘Here’s someone who’d be a better speaker than Nancy Pelosi.’ He’s just saying unilaterally, ‘I’m not going to vote for Nancy Pelosi.’”

Snodgrass said she volunteered and canvassed for Moulton ahead of the Nov. 6 election, but that his campaign against Pelosi has caused her to sour on the congressman. She worked with other activists to bring about 30 people to the Amesbury town hall with signs in hand, where they told Moulton directly about their concerns.

Although Snodgrass said she understands the desire for fresh leadership, she feels that now -- just after winning back a House majority under the Trump administration -- is not the time for internecine conflict.

“The change in leadership does not need to happen on Jan. 3,” Snodgrass said. “On Jan. 3, we need to hit the ground running. (Pelosi) is the institutional person in Congress who is going to get the vote, move stuff through. She knows how to do it. There is no person more qualified than Nancy Pelosi.”

Several women interviewed, including Snodgrass, said they found the gender dynamics of the conflict to be uncomfortable. They described Moulton’s efforts to unseat Pelosi, who became the first female Speaker of the House when she ascended to the role in 2007, as sexist, pointing out that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has not faced nearly the same degree of opposition as her.

“A lot of women watch what Seth is doing to Nancy Pelosi and they’ve experienced that same thing every day of their lives: you do the hard work, you finally get to the point where you have the opportunity to get that promotion, you’ve worked all your life for this, and some guy comes along and says, ‘Nah, you didn’t really work that hard,’” said Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic strategist and commentator.

Despite the pushback against Moulton, public opinion is not strongly in favor of Pelosi. A CBS News poll conducted between Nov. 15 and Nov. 18 -- after the election -- found 49 percent of Democrats believe Pelosi should receive another term as Speaker while 40 percent want the role to go to someone else. In a UMass Lowell-Boston Globe survey of 3rd Congressional District Democrats conducted in April, just 27 percent supported Pelosi compared to 55 percent who wanted a new leader. (Lori Trahan, newly elected to represent the 3rd District, said last week she will vote for Pelosi.)

The issue prompted vigorous discussion around the area. Most of Monday’s town hall focused on Pelosi, and Erika Johnson, the Wilmington Democratic Town Committee chair, said a post debating the topic on the group’s Facebook page received more interaction than anything before.

“It’s pretty split,” Johnson said. “A few people are saying it’s time for a change, others are saying that Pelosi had a hand in a lot of seats we’ve flipped to the Democrats, that she’s been an effective leader.”

So what, then, does the debate portend for the future? Depending on how the final two uncalled House races go, Pelosi could lose no more than 14 to 16 Democrats without her campaign being jeopardized. Moulton could face repercussions in the 6th District, too. The 2020 election is a long way away, but Snodgrass and Johnson both said they had heard rumblings about the congressman facing a primary challenge, perhaps from a woman.

Marsh, who was also critical of Moulton, said she views the entire interaction as a 2020 forecast in a different way.

“This has everything to do with Moulton running for president,” she said, “and nothing to do with Pelosi running for speaker.”

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisLisinski.

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