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Nancy Pelosi Re-Elected As House's Top Democrat

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

House Democrats have just re-elected Nancy Pelosi to serve as their leader in the next Congress. Pelosi has been the House's top Democrat since 2003, but she did not win this without a fight this morning. There's lingering frustration in the Democratic Party after their poor showing up and down the ballot on Election Day. Joining us now to talk about this, NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Good morning, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So this was not a surprise, I gather. How exactly does this play out?

DAVIS: It was not a surprise. Pelosi, she won re-election by a 134-vote margin. She had one challenger. His name is Tim Ryan. He's a Democrat from Ohio, and he got 63 votes. He did succeed in delaying the elections. Democrats were supposed to do this immediately after Election Day. And there was so much frustration in the caucus, it was postponed until today to kind of give the party time to suss out who they wanted their leaders to be. And Democrats decided they still want their leader to be Nancy Pelosi.

GREENE: But 63 votes is no small thing, especially when you're up against someone with Pelosi's stature who has been such a figure in the party for so long, right?

DAVIS: It's not, and this frustration is going to carry through into the next Congress. Part of Tim Ryan's argument was that the party needs new faces and a new message if they want to win back the kind of voters they lost in 2016, particularly white working-class voters and voters in the Midwest, which is where Tim Ryan is from.

GREENE: Ohio, one of the states that helped decide the election in many ways.

DAVIS: Exactly. And he comes from Youngstown, which is a place that's very emblematic of that white working-class voter. But, you know, Pelosi has always been a master vote counter. And she's publicly insisted in this race that she had two-thirds of Democrats behind her. And she hit that margin almost exactly.

GREENE: So if there are these complaints within the party, if there is this frustration feeling like the party is not connecting with white working-class voters as you say, is Pelosi going to, you know, so-called get the message? I mean, is she going to change the way she leads the party in Congress?

DAVIS: She has already offered concessions because of this challenge. She's trying to bring newer and younger members into the table. They're trying to change the committee structure to let other voices at the top of the committee. But there's also backlash from that, particularly from the Congressional Black Caucus that sees that as potentially a way of weakening their long-term strength on - in the committees. And younger members who look at leadership that are all in their 70s who have not gone anywhere in more than a decade and committee chairs that don't have term limits - so they're trying to change the - stir the pot a little bit. But some of these changes, these members say, it's just window dressing.

GREENE: Sue, this is such a tough moment for the Democratic Party, working with, you know, Republican majorities in both Houses, a Republican White House, a new president, Donald Trump. Are they - I mean, are they talking about, you know, sort of a working together kind of tone, as democratic-elect Trump - as President-elect Trump has put together his team? Are they complaining? Are they angry? What's the mood there?

DAVIS: Part of probably what helped Pelosi is a wider view among Democrats that right now they need to be focused on the opposition and not internal fighting. The nominee...

GREENE: Ignore our problems until later.

DAVIS: Yes. The nomination of Tom Price this week really drove that home for a lot of Democrats. Tom Price is a conservative Republican from Georgia who...

GREENE: A doctor who's Health and Human Services secretary, nominated.

DAVIS: Exactly, and he's one of - he's going to join the Trump cabinet. And he's also been a proponent, as has speaker Paul Ryan, of changing the Medicare system and repealing President Obama's health care law. And this has really crystallized for Democrats what the war ahead is going to be over health care. And their message to their rank and file in both the House and Senate has said, look, we can't be - have these internal divisions. We need to focus on this health care fight because it is going to consume so much of 2017.

GREENE: OK. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Thanks, Sue.

DAVIS: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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