A day before her mother, Nancy Pelosi, was again sworn in as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Alexandra Pelosi tossed out a slab of red meat to the ravenous national press about the veteran Democratic congresswoman from California:
“She’ll cut your head off and you won’t even know you’re bleeding. That’s all you need to know about her. No one ever won betting against Nancy Pelosi. She’s persevered. You’ve got to give her credit. No matter what you think of her, you have to give her credit. Think about all those presidents she’s endured, right? The Bushes, the Clintons. She’s been through it all.”
Alexandra Pelosi was wrong on one count. There is someone whose head was cut off and he knew he was bleeding all over the floor of the Rotunda.
Mahoning Valley Congressman Tim Ryan has the distinction of taking on Pelosi not once, but twice, and being vanquished both times.
Ryan, who began his ninth two-year term on Thursday, had to sit in the House chamber and watch the most powerful Democrat in the country taking the oath of office as speaker. Pelosi originally held the gavel of power from 2007 through 2010 as first woman in the history of this nation to occupy the speaker’s chair. Republicans took back control of the House in 2011, but in the general election last November, the GOP suffered major losses. Voters clearly wanted divided government. Republicans still control the Senate.
Republican President Donald Trump has been in office for two years and is expected to seek re-election in 2020.
But Congressman Ryan, who represents one of the most Democratic districts in the country, decided to shake up the party by challenging Pelosi for minority leader in 2016. He threw his hat in the ring for the position and attracted national political and media attention. He appeared on every major television news show and received front-page coverage from newspapers around the country.
The congressman from the 13th District argued that Pelosi and other party leaders in the House had lost touch with rank and file Democrats and had become political lightning rods in Middle America. He insisted that his challenge of Pelosi was not personal, but he didn’t pull any punches as he attempted to unseat her.
But then the caucus met and the nation’s attention was drawn to Capitol Hill.
When the final tally was announced, it became clear that Pelosi still wielded tremendous power among Democrats. She crushed Ryan 134-63 votes.
Even so, the Valley congressman, who once worked as an intern for one of the most powerful politicians in the history of this region, James A. Traficant Jr., was undaunted by his stunning defeat. Traficant served in Congress for 17 years before being sent to federal prison for seven-plus years after being convicted of using his public position for personal gain. He died in 2014.
Two months ago, Ryan and 15 other members of the incoming Congress sent a letter to their colleagues saying they were committed to changing the leadership in the House following significant victories nationwide.
Many members of this year’s freshman class repudiated Pelosi during the election because Republicans made her an issue in congressional races around the country. The GOP pounded away at her negatives and used her “California liberal” political pedigree as weapon.
In the letter, Ryan and his cohorts conceded that Pelosi had accomplished much as leader of the Democratic caucus, but contended that the results of the election were a clarion call for a change in the party’s leadership.
“Our majority came on the backs of candidates who said that they would support new leadership because voters in hard-won districts, and across the country, want to see real change in Washington,” the letter stated. “We promised to change the status quo, and we intend to deliver on that promise.”
Indeed, their pledge to take the fight to the floor of the House during the roll call for speaker kept the story on the front burner.
But then reality smacked the Valley congressman in the face. Pelosi launched a counterattack and soon the opposition began to crumble.
Ryan, realizing that she had the votes to win, sought to make a deal. He agreed to support Pelosi in return for her pledge to serve two terms as speaker.
On Wednesday, a day before the vote, Ryan appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and admitted that House Democrats were “absolutely” united behind Pelosi.
Here’s how one news story characterized what occurred:
“ … Pelosi peeled away the skeptics, flipping ‘no’ votes to the ‘yes’ column, sometimes in a matter of days. Some were given lead positions on their legislative priorities, even a gavel of their own to chair special panels.
“And Pelosi gave a little, too, promising, at 78, to serve no more than four years in leadership, making way for the next generation.”
In the end, when the votes by Democrats and Republicans in the House were counted, Pelosi garnered 220 to 192 for Republican Kevin McCarthy.
How did Pelosi, the political trailblazer, overcome the challenge from Ryan and others? She revealed the secret of her success during a television interview: She has finessed the art of counting votes.
It’s a lesson U.S. Rep. Ryan, who may be contemplating a bid for the Democratic nomination for president, would do well to learn.