House Leadership Ranks Remain Mostly Stagnant For Democrats
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Also on the Hill yesterday, House Democrats re-elected their top leadership. Nancy Pelosi will continue as minority leader, but as NPR's Juana Summers reports from Capitol Hill, there are rumblings among Democrats that Pelosi is not doing enough to promote younger members.
JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Seventy-four. That's the average age of the top three members of House Democratic leadership. We're talking about Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Congressman Steny Hoyer and Congressman Jim Clyburn. Now, take the same three positions - just switch the party to Republican. The average drops by 20 years to 54. And it's not just the Democratic leaders who are older. It's the whole conference. By and large, House Republicans are younger than Democrats. And the Democratic leadership has barely changed in the last decade. When asked if it was time for a change, here's how Pelosi responded.
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REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI: What was the day that any of you said to Mitch McConnell when they lost the Senate three times in a row, aren't you getting a little old, Mitch? Shouldn't you step aside? Have you ever asked him that question?
SUMMERS: Questions about Pelosi's leadership continue on Capitol Hill. While Pelosi was a big fundraiser for her fellow Democrats, some have question Democrats' messaging in the run-up to the election. Congresswoman Marcia Fudge is the outgoing chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
REPRESENTATIVE MARCIA FUDGE: Our caucus is very disenchanted and disappointed. I mean, why would we not be? We've lost three straight elections in large numbers. And so, obviously, you know, we're going to be upset. And for those people who say they're not, they're not being honest.
SUMMERS: Perhaps recognizing the growing pressure to present a more youthful face, Pelosi made an unexpected pick to join party leadership. That's Ben Ray Lujan, a 42-year-old Hispanic lawmaker from New Mexico. Here's how Pelosi described him.
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PELOSI: A dynamic and forward-looking leader with a fresh energy and ideas House Democrats need for victory in 2016.
SUMMERS: As head of the DCCC, Lujan's first job will be recruiting new Democratic candidates. I asked whether or not he worried about the party's talent pool and whether there were paths to leadership available for young up-and-comers. Here's what he had to say.
REPRESENTATIVE BEN RAY LUJAN: I think we have some incredible young members, young candidates and incredible energy with the youth all across the country. And I think that only leads to more opportunities. We need to make sure we're getting more young people that are eager to serve in public office.
SUMMERS: Congressman Eric Swallwell is 34 years old and represents California. Like many young Democrats, he pointed to Lujan as evidence the party isn't going gray.
REPRESENTATIVE ERIC SWALLWELL: I think he represents the next generation of leaders in the Congress, and so I think his ability to use that to go out and recruit candidates across the country is going to be of great value to our party.
SUMMERS: But for now, there's no change at the top. Come January, Pelosi will kick off her seventh term as Democratic leader - five of those in the minority. Juana Summers, NPR News, the Capitol.
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