Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader continued his high-profile effort to keep Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi from regaining the House speakership.
The Clackamas County lawmaker was one of 32 Democrats who voted Wednesday in a closed-door caucus in the Capitol against nominating Pelosi for the top job in the House.
Pelosi, who has led House Democrats since 2003, gained a solid majority with 203 votes. But that’s short of the 218 votes from the full House she will need in January to win election as speaker.
Schrader said he's determined to continue his fight against Pelosi's leadership all the way to the House floor, even though it's angering many Democratic activists back in his district. He argued that he's not trying to undermine Democratic policy goals on health care, the economy and other issues.
“We’re just differing on how to get there,” he said in a telephone interview with OPB. “Some people want to put their faith back in Ms. Pelosi and others of us feel very strongly on the other side that it’s time to move on and reform the process. I see no changes coming from her in the way we’re going to be running things.”
Schrader is among a group of 16 Democrats who signed a letter vowing to oppose the California lawmaker’s speakership bid all the way to the House floor. He and eight other members of the Problem Solvers Caucus also wrote a letter demanding major House rules changes before members could support Pelosi.
Pelosi cut a deal with the caucus Wednesday to accept some rules changes. The other eight agreed to support Pelosi.
Schrader was the only hold-out, saying he didn’t think the changes were significant enough. He said he wants to encourage more cooperation across party lines on legislation.
Schrader’s staunch opposition to Pelosi has not escaped the notice of Democratic activists who credit her with helping the party regain the majority of the House — and for shepherding through such monumental legislation as the Affordable Care Act.
“I think it’s a mistake for him to be in essence joining sides with the Republicans” in opposing Pelosi, said Milwaukie, Oregon, Mayor Mark Gamba, who is also an active member of the local Democratic Party.
Gamba said he thinks this will come back to hit Schrader in the next Democratic primary.
“There’s not a progressive Democrat that I speak to that wouldn’t love to see him primary-ed,” Gamba added.
Schrader’s 5th Congressional District, which stretches from southeast Portland down through Clackamas and Marion counties and out to the coast, is a politically mixed area that Donald Trump lost by only 4 percentage points in 2016.
Despite that, Schrader hasn’t faced a strong Republican challenger since 2010 while crafting a record that is more centrist than many Democrats. He’s particularly parted ways on environmental issues, seeking more logging in federal forests and backing repeal of Obama-era water regulations that angered farmers.
“There is a constant undercurrent from the progressives in the district finding continued discontent for Congressman Schrader,” said Peter Toll, who chairs the Democratic Party committee covering the 5th District.
Schrader, who has also been active in the moderate Blue Dog Coalition, said he helped House candidates across the country this year in similar districts. He said he saw how many were forced to distance themselves from Pelosi.
“You shouldn’t be afraid to have your leader come to your district and campaign for you,” he said, “and that’s where we are at this point in time.”
Opposing Pelosi’s leadership is not new for Schrader. He urged a change in leadership after Democrats lost the majority in 2010 and also voted against her after the 2016 election.
While Schrader has talked about the need for fresh leadership, he did support keeping Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland in the No. 2 leadership position and Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina in the No. 3 position. Both are also longtime Democratic House leaders.
Schrader said he has worked well with Hoyer and Clyburn, and he argued that the focus of voter attention is on Pelosi, the top Democratic leader.
At the same time, Schrader said he thought debate about the speakership would be long-ago history by the time the voters cast ballots in congressional races in two years. By then, he said, he hoped that Democrats would have a long list of accomplishments.
But he said that if Pelosi remains at the top of the party, he worries Democrats could lose their majority in 2020.
Among Oregon’s other Democratic members, Rep. Peter DeFazio of Springfield refused through an aide to say how he had voted on the secret ballot in caucus. Portland-area Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici have both publicly declared their support for Pelosi.