Nancy Pelosi
Alex Brandon  /  AP
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., on her way to a television interview on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday.
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updated 11/5/2010 6:16:27 PM ET 2010-11-05T22:16:27

Despite widespread complaints about massive losses that will put Democrats in the minority, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday she will try to stay on as leader of her party in the House.

The decision exposed a rift between Pelosi's liberal allies and the dwindling number of moderate Democrats, who feel besieged and eager for substantive and symbolic changes in direction after Tuesday's Republican rout. It also is likely to trigger leadership battles farther down the ladder.

Pelosi, the nation's first female speaker, said many colleagues urged her to seek the post of minority leader in the new Congress that convenes in January. That will be the Democrats' top post, because Republicans, who grabbed more than 60 Democratic-held seats Tuesday, will elect the next speaker. It will be John Boehner of Ohio, who will swap titles with Pelosi if she succeeds in her bid.

"We have no intention of allowing our great achievements to be rolled back," Pelosi, 70, said in a letter to her colleagues.

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Allies said Pelosi would not make the bid unless she felt certain she had the votes. House members elect their respective party leaders at the start of each new Congress. Her caucus is more heavily liberal now that many moderate Democrats lost on Tuesday.

Pelosi: 'I am running for Dem leader'

Several moderates, and even some longtime Pelosi supporters, had openly criticized her in their re-election campaigns, and had urged her to step aside. Pelosi's Friday announcement caught some off guard.

Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., had told a Louisville TV station on Thursday, "as good a leader as she has been, I don't think she's the right leader to take us forward."

He reversed field Friday after she announced her intentions. Pelosi "has proven time and time again that she is able to build consensus in a caucus comprised of members from all across the ideological spectrum," he said.

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Other House Democrats held their ground.

Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., said he was "disappointed that Speaker Pelosi is going to seek the position of Minority Leader." North Carolina Rep. Larry Kissell's office said he hopes Pelosi "will change her mind and step aside."

Reps. Dan Boren of Oklahoma and Mike Ross of Arkansas also said they opposed Pelosi.

They were among the many House Democrats whom Republicans criticized for their loyalty to the California liberal, who was a forceful though generally well-liked speaker. During her four years as Speaker, Pelosi used all her political muscle to enact contentious measures such as President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

Republicans were giddy in learning the news.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele expressed delight when told of Pelosi's move. In a meeting with reporters, Steele put his hands over his head and applauded.

The case for Pelosi to remain House Democratic leader

"My breath is taken away by that announcement," he said, grinning.

In a statement, White House spokesman Bill Burton said the president appreciates the work of Pelosi and the Democratic leadership team "who have been great partners in moving the country forward" and he looks forward to working with them.

Pelosi's announcement set off a likely battle for the No. 2 Democratic leadership job, now held by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland. The party's third-ranking leader, House Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, said he will try to keep the job, which will become the second in command when Democrats become the minority.

The case against Pelosi

If Clyburn — the House's highest-ranking African-American — prevails, Hoyer would be forced out of the leadership ranks for the first time in many years.

Hoyer said he would make a decision after consulting with lawmakers, adding, "I have received an outpouring of support from Democratic colleagues who have told me that I should remain in our party's leadership."

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Hoyer is more centrist than Pelosi, and the two have long had a cordial but somewhat wary relationship.

Pelosi's bid presumably will keep her atop the Democratic caucus, which will number about 190 members next year. But it would mark a big drop from being speaker, which carries tremendous power to influence legislation and is second only to the vice president in the line of presidential succession.

Among those defending her was Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill. "We're in a political storm," he said, "but we don't need to adopt an 'any leader in a storm' mentality."

Several Democratic lawmakers in conservative districts had vowed to oppose Pelosi as speaker, but some of them lost their re-election bids all the same.

One survivor, Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina, had said he might challenge Pelosi because the party needs a more moderate leader. Shuler noted that he lost his job as Washington Redskins quarterback in 1997 after the team performed poorly.

As the magnitude of Tuesday's election losses sunk in, even some longtime supporters of Pelosi said she needed to step aside as the party leader.

"I voted for everything she asked me to vote for," said Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J. "You know, sometimes in this business it's difficult to know when to move on."

"With all the losses that we had with governors and all the redistricting that's going to be done, we don't need the target," Sires said, referring to the once-a-decade House redistricting process about to begin nationwide.

If Pelosi remains as the Democrats' House leader, it's possible the party will absorb historic election losses without making significant leadership changes. In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will keep his post.

Pelosi's decision also may enable Republicans to keep demonizing her as an emblem of Democratic liberalism, as they did in so many campaigns this fall.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Pelosi announces run for House minority leader

  1. Closed captioning of: Pelosi announces run for House minority leader

    >> nbc nus producer ken strickland is here with us and luke russert live on capitol hill . luke, first to you on the breaking news nancy pelosi is runs again. we god a release from republican dan born in oklahoma. the congressman from new jersey is saying she should not be the leader. is she going to have a challenge?

    >> andrea , there's a lot of opposition to nancy pelosi from moderate and conservative blue dog democrats . their ranks were cut in half on tuesday, so the majority of the party now is the liberal base and the problemigressive base. hoyer said he would not challenge pelosi because of that fact. it would be difficult for him to win. this is huge news, andrea . i think we can't forget this happened via twitter, which is amazing in 2010 . nancy pelosi is saying, look, i was made out to be a demagogue by everybody. it doesn't matter. i'm the one essentially that stood up, fought for liberal principles, got health care passed and got a cap and trade bill passed. i'm not the one that's the fall guy in this. a lot of progressives and liberals have said why does president obama 's staff stay in power? why does harry reid stay in power? they're not the ones for getting all the change through. it started with nancy pelosi . she shouldn't have to fall on the sword. what's somethiinteresting to see is where she talks her caucus. a lot say she goes to the left. that, in fact, if she's going to say it's not right for democrats to compromise on our principles, we shouldn't become moderates and placate the republicans. the republicans are the party of no for two years, and a lot of liberals say we can do the same thing. just wait until things like unemployment benefits run out, when there could be a government shutdown . she can position herself for 2012 and possibly come back as speaker on the coattails of barack obama at the top of ticket. an unbelievable and amazing development that nobody, absolutely nobody would have called on wednesday morning.

    >> and, ken, just to play devil's advocate here, they lost the blue dogs , they lost the conservatives but at the same time some of the people who lost might say if nancy pelosi hadn't forced us to vote for cap and trade, which died on the senate side, all those issues -- all those tough votes they took with traditional resentment of the house to the senate exposed them to all of these tough, local races.

    >> one of the things nancy pelosi not over and over again the house passed an enormous number of bills they couldn't close the deal on. yes, the house democrats have always had this kind of attitude that the house republicans were our opposition, but the democrats were the enemy because it's so hard to come together with terms on trying to close deals with the big bills.

    >> the things she's proudest of and willing to take to the public as her legacy are the very things that the voters rejected according to every exit poll . all of the big government programs that she fashioned. i mean, what lawrence o'donnell said, luke, this morning on " morning joe " was that her primary job was to be re-elected as speaker because she was to save the house for democrats, not to do this legislating. it should have been done at the committee level. that's a contradictory point of view.

    >> absolutely. look, there's a lot of democrats that i spoke to, members and strategists that said she's stocks zwi toxic and radioactive. what do we do with nance kwi pelosi in places like ohio and western and upstate new york and places like virginia, pennsylvania. make no doubt about it, she's a very polarizing figure, but at the end of the day we're talking about a race amongst problem sif and liberal democrats . it's one she's able to walk away in a landslide. at the end of the day , it's personal with pelosi , andrea . she thinks she's the best person at the table and will keep this diverse caucus together. she thinks she's the one and it's her moment. they believes there's nobody else that can do as good a job as she can.

    >> before we wrap on the senate side and house republican side , you've got this challenge by michelle bachmann . we've seen what's happened with strong support from eric cantor and other members of the leadersh leadership. the tea party says they deserve a seat at the table.

    >> i think the tea party believes in those that back the tea party that this wave that washed over the country should wash over the republican leadership as well see that as a problem. there are no grum bemings right now there's going to be any tea party take-over the leadership. there will be jim demint to contend with. he raised a lot of money and sent it to tea party candidates. they come into the caucus, so there's a question as far as what role they can play, but as far as the leadership in the senate is concerned, they feel they have their team in place and it won't change.

    >> ken strickland, you and luke russert both amazing election day before, during, after and continuing. get some rest guys.

    >> we get an extra hour of sleep this weekend. i'm taking full advantage of it.

    >> you need it. stay off twitter and get some sleep.

    >> take care.

    >> thanks.

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