Nancy Pelosi re-elected as leader of House Democrats

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi meeting Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Nov 17, 2016.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi meeting Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Nov 17, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Democrat Nancy Pelosi won re-election Wednesday (Nov 30) as minority leader in the US House of Representatives, fending off a strong challenge by a younger lawmaker who called for change after the party’s poor election performance.

“Honoured to be elected by my colleagues to serve as Democratic Leader. Let’s get to work,” the 76-year-old Pelosi said on Twitter, after winning the internal party vote 134 to 63.

Pelosi survived a challenge from congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio to extend her 13-year grip on party control in the chamber.

The seven-term lawmaker Ryan, 43, had drawn support from Democrats discouraged by their party’s loss in the Nov 8 presidential election and their failure to gain back many seats in Congress.

Ryan put himself forward as a new-generation leader of a party caucus that stands accused of having forgotten working class voters in middle America, many of whom helped elect anti-establishment billionaire Donald Trump to the White House.

Pelosi, a strong backer of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, remains a powerful figure, having made history in 2007 as the first female House speaker.

But 63 defectors against her is a tally that suggests her grip on the leadership is weakening.

“Clearly this didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to,” Ryan told reporters after the vote, which he described as “an uphill battle” from the beginning.

“As Democrats, we need to talk about the economy. It’s the issue that unites us,” he added.

“I believe it in my heart that if we’re going to win as Democrats, we need to have an economic message that resonates in every corner of this country.”

Pelosi defenders have argued she has been a bulwark against Republican efforts to privatise Medicare and shrink other entitlement programmes that have served for decades as a safety net for millions of Americans.

On Tuesday, she vowed to defend the programmes, slamming Trump’s pick for health and human services secretary, Republican congressman Tom Price, as eager to help House Speaker Paul Ryan dismantle Medicare.

“We’ll fight relentlessly to defend it,” she said.

House Democrat Elijah Cummings said Tim Ryan had “a very strong pitch” to lawmakers, many of whom wanted new blood at the top of their party that has lost nearly 60 House seats to Republicans since President Barack Obama took office eight years ago.

“But this is a time when we need, I think, someone who has been battle-tested,” Cummings told reporters.

“And there is no stronger battle-tested person than Nancy Pelosi,” he said, noting Pelosi’s leadership in passing the Affordable Care Act and Wall Street reforms.