WASHINGTON (AP) — Nancy Pelosi is responding to a challenge to her position as top House Democrat by proposing to give more influence to junior lawmakers atop congressional committees and within her leadership team.
Pelosi, 76, has been the chamber's Democratic leader since 2002. She is being challenged by Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan in the aftermath of elections that were disappointing for Democrats who expected Hillary Clinton to be elected president and their party to make sizable gains in the House.
Pelosi appears to be addressing widespread unease among more junior lawmakers who say that opportunities to advance and influence the party's course are lacking so long as the same senior Democrats remain in charge.
Ryan says he is better able to appeal to Rust Belt and rural areas where Democrats used to perform better. Pelosi points to her successful leadership in the mid-2000s that led the party into the majority for four years.
Pelosi's core leadership team has been in place for a decade and octogenarians command the top Democratic posts of several powerful committees, including the Judiciary panel and the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which has sweeping jurisdiction over taxes, trade, health care and Social Security.
Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., 38, said recently there is "a lot" of frustration among younger Democrats that there are so few paths for advancement in the House.
"Young people are voting for Democrats," Moulton said. "People of color are voting for Democrats. We're the party of the future but it doesn't look like that."
He said: "We ought to have leadership that reflects the diversity of our caucus. And part of our diversity is our youth."
Pelosi is the overwhelming favorite to defeat Ryan and hold onto her post as minority leader. But she's responding to the unease among junior Democrats by proposing that less senior lawmakers be given the No. 2 Democratic spots on committees. She would also immediately create three leadership positions for Democrats who have served fewer than 10 years, and designate the No. 3 leadership post for a lawmaker who has served fewer than three terms.
"Making this fight requires all hands on deck," Pelosi wrote to fellow Democrats.
Pelosi also has the backing of top party figures — starting with President Barack Obama.
"She combines strong, progressive values with just extraordinary political skill," Obama said Sunday. "And she does stuff that's tough, not just stuff that's easy."
On Tuesday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumpka weighed in on Twitter. "Our agenda is her agenda and that's why we're with her to be the Democratic leader," Trumpka wrote.
Ryan, 43, had earlier issued similar proposals designed to give a greater role to more junior Democrats. And he says the party has to expand far beyond its coastal and urban strongholds.
"I'm pulling the fire alarm because the house is burning down, and we better get our act together or we're going to cease being a national party," Ryan said Monday on the Fox Business Network. "We're going to be a regional party that fails to get into the majority and fails to do things on behalf of those working class people that were the backbone of the Democratic Party for so long."
Pelosi backer Jim McGovern, D-Mass., a 20-year House veteran, said there were much larger forces at work for the disappointing election result for Democrats, who picked up just a half dozen House seats in the election.
"This economy is not working for everybody, that's just a fact," McGovern said. "In rural areas or the Midwest that's especially the case, but that's not the fault of our leadership or one person in our leadership."