WASHINGTON (AP) — A senior House Democrat said Thursday it's time for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other veteran leaders step aside and make way for a new generation of party leaders.
Eight-term Rep. Linda Sanchez of California said she thinks it's "time to pass the torch to a new generation of leaders, and I want to be a part of that transition. I want to see that happen."
Sanchez, 48, told C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" that Pelosi, 77, and her top two deputies — both in their late 70's — do a "tremendous job," but she said too many younger lawmakers "don't always get the opportunities that they should, and I would like to see that change."
The comments by Sanchez, the fifth-highest ranking House Democrat, were the strongest challenge yet by a Democratic leader to Pelosi's iron grip on the caucus.
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, unsuccessfully challenged Pelosi last year, and Democrats grumbled about Pelosi in June, when the party lost a special election in a wildly expensive Georgia House race. The loss in Georgia followed similar disappointments in special House elections in Kansas and Montana, amid frustration at the party's continued minority status in the House since 2011.
Sanchez declined to attack Pelosi or her top deputies, Reps. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, 78, and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, 77, but said, "We have a lot of talent on the bench, and I think we need to really help develop that talent and give people opportunity."
The main argument against Pelosi from her Democratic detractors is that more than 30 years in Washington and hundreds of millions of dollars in GOP attack ads against her have taken their toll, at least in public opinion.
Critics argue that despite Pelosi's fundraising prowess and legislative skills, her image as a San Francisco liberal drags down some Democratic candidates, especially in Republican-leaning states.
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill pushed back on criticism Thursday, saying "Leader Pelosi enjoys wide support in the caucus and has always said she's not in Congress on a shift, but on a mission."
Pelosi "is focused on winning back the House, and anything else is a distraction from our path to the majority," Hammill said.
Democratic aides said the arguments by Sanchez against seniority would likely antagonize members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which include some of the longest-serving members in the House.
The timing of the criticism struck some as ironic, since Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have emerged as unlikely partners of President Donald Trump in deals over spending bills and immigration policy. Trump has been referring to the two veteran Democrats as "Chuck and Nancy."
A dozen or so House Democrats voiced frustration with Pelosi after the Georgia loss, although it is not clear how many Democrats would vote to unseat her if she is challenged. Sixty-three Democrats supported Ryan in November, while 134 backed Pelosi.
A defiant Pelosi told reporters this summer she is "very confident" about her support from fellow Democrats. "My decision about how long I stay is not up to them," she said of her detractors.
The C-SPAN "Newsmakers" interview is scheduled to air in full on Sunday.