Pelosi to stay and fight

PELOSI TO STAY AND FIGHT…. There was an expected series of events in the wake of House Democrats losing their majority. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would obviously have to give up her gavel, but it seemed likely she’d leave Congress altogether, too. For many, the path was almost unavoidable.

But Pelosi has a knack for defying expectations.

In the wake of Tuesday’s results, the current House Speaker began working the phones, connecting with every member of the Democratic caucus, gauging members’ support for her sticking around. This afternoon, Pelosi announced her plans.

Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday she will run for minority leader, even as some moderate and conservative Democrats have said she should step aside. Pelosi made the announcement on Twitter: “Driven by the urgency of creating jobs & protecting #hcr, #wsr, Social Security & Medicare, I am running for Dem Leader.”

In this case, “Dem Leader” is, of course, House Minority Leader — a position Pelosi held before the Democrats took the majority in 2006.

As for what’s next, one assumes that Pelosi would not pursue the job if she weren’t confident she could win, but it’s worth emphasizing that this won’t be easy. There are at least four Blue Dog Democrats who’ve publicly called for a new House leader, and who won’t back Pelosi’s bid.

In other words, this will be the latest in a series of disputes pitting more liberal and more conservative Dems.

As for Pelosi’s motivations, I’m sure the Speaker will be saying more fairly soon, but a senior Democratic aide told Roll Call,”She wants to be vindicated. She wants to win back the House. She wants to say she did it.”

That’s certainly a worthwhile goal for a leader — and the Speaker has a knack for surprising those who underestimate her.

If I’m being fair, I should concede that the Blue Dogs’ argument is not entirely baseless, at least in the abstract. When a caucus loses 60 seats in one cycle, forfeiting their majority in the process, it’s not ridiculous to consider a change in caucus leadership.

But I’m still glad Pelosi’s going to keep fighting. She’s arguably the strongest, most accomplished, and most effective Speaker in a generation, and if there’s a better leader in the House caucus, his or her name doesn’t come to mind. She’s tough as nails, and as a radicalized Republican majority gets to work, Democrats would be wise to have an experienced, resilient leader at the helm.

What’s more, as Steve Kornacki noted, there is some historical precedent to keep in mind: in the 1946 midterms, Dems had a similar shellacking, losing 55 seats and their majority. Speaker Sam Rayburn became House Minority Leader until the 1948 election — when Dems soared and reclaimed their majority in the wake of the GOP’s infamous “do-nothing Congress.”

Whether history can repeat itself remains to be seen.

Update: In a letter to her colleagues, Pelosi told her fellow Dems, “As a result of Tuesday’s election, the role of Democrats in the 112th Congress will change, but our commitment to serving the American people will not. We have no intention of allowing our great achievements to be rolled back.” The Speaker isn’t afraid to fight.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.