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Campaigning Continues For House Democrats Who Want Leadership Roles


Just after Thanksgiving, House Democrats gather to choose their candidate for speaker of the House. Nancy Pelosi, who was speaker once before and led Democrats during their eight years out of power, intends to be speaker again. Some Democrats have signed a letter insisting on new leadership. Pelosi's deputy all these years has been Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who is campaigning to remain her No. 2 as the House majority leader. And he's on the line.

Congressman, welcome back to the program.

STENY HOYER: Good to be with you. Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: Should we assume you will have a working Thanksgiving? Nancy Pelosi needs 218 votes in the House.

HOYER: Correct.

INSKEEP: Obviously, they have to come all from the Democratic side. You're going to end up with something close to 240 seats maybe. So you can lose about 20 Democrats. Is that correct?

HOYER: That's a ballpark figure, yes. She needs around 215 to 218.

INSKEEP: Is she really there, as she suggested yesterday?

HOYER: Well, if she said so, I believe that that's probably the case then.

INSKEEP: And what about you? Because, of course, you're running for the No. 2 spot.

HOYER: I'm not opposed. And I have somewhere close to the - well, I have about two-thirds. I have already written a letter to their colleagues on my behalf.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, earlier this week, we spoke with Debbie Dingell, longtime member of Congress from Michigan. And she made an interesting remark I want to play for you. She spoke here of Nancy Pelosi and of you and also the No. 3 House Democrat, Jim Clyburn. Let's listen.


DEBBIE DINGELL: I think that we will see all three back at the top but not until there's a very serious conversation inside of the caucus about how we make sure that this freshmen class has got opportunities as well.

INSKEEP: How do you give the new people a seat at the table if veteran lawmakers, who have been there for decades, remain at the top - all of them?

HOYER: Well, first of all, we have three spots open. I know a lot of young people are running for those three major spots. In addition to that, we have other spots on the policy committee representing those members who have served less than five terms and other leadership spots dealing with outreach to millennials - and chairman of the steering committee. So we have a lot of opportunities for young people.

And as whip, I have included a large number of young people in my whip organization - I mean, many, many people with less than three terms. And I've done that specifically so we could get young people experienced and know what is necessary in leadership and also to make sure their voice is heard.

INSKEEP: OK, so you're creating some space for them a little bit further down the way. But...


INSKEEP: ...There are other suggestions about how to bring in new leadership and new blood. And there's an article here by a writer named Bill Scher of Politico, who just comes right out and says it. He says, never mind Nancy Pelosi. She's not going anywhere. Challenge Steny Hoyer. That's what he says.

HOYER: Yeah, that was about four or five days before 155 of my colleagues, well over a majority of the caucus, sent a letter urging my election as majority leader.

INSKEEP: So you think that's over, in effect.

HOYER: Well, I think I have many more than sufficient votes. And of course, I don't have anybody running against me. But more importantly, I have close to 200 members who have told me that they're going to support me.

INSKEEP: OK. Let's talk about what it is that House Democrats can try to do because there are some policy differences here. For example, some newly elected members support "Medicare-for-all" as an idea. Some don't. You have been seen as more of an advocate of some fiscal restraint on issues like Social Security and Medicare. What do you mean to do on Medicare, if anything?

HOYER: Well, first of all, I think every Democrat is focused on making sure that every American has access to affordable, quality health care. There are a number of ways to do that. I believe that we ought to first make sure that the Affordable Care Act is working as effectively and efficiently as we intended it to do.

We added 20 million people to - access to having affordable insurance. We had subsidies. We had notices to those people. The administration has done a lot to undermine the effectiveness of the Affordable Care Act. So I think our first focus in getting to the goal of having all Americans have access to health care insurance and being protected is to fix the Affordable Care Act.

INSKEEP: Is there any point in going for "Medicare-for-all"?

HOYER: I think there is a large number of the members of the caucus who are for "Medicare-for-all" to begin with. But we generally believe - I believe that we ought to start with fixing the Affordable Care Act. But I think it is fair to say that every Democrat is for making sure that every American - as a matter of fact, that's what President Trump said when he was campaigning for president. He said he wanted a system that included everybody - lower cost, higher quality. When he sends that bill down to the Congress, I'm going to support it.

INSKEEP: I want to ask about your broader approach here as you head into this new House of Representatives. Ron Klain, longtime Democratic activist and official, wrote an article the other day who said, listen, I know that some Democrats are really eager to investigate President Trump. And that needs to be done, sure. But really, actually take your time with that. Hold off on the investigations and do some basic things for people, like try to raise the minimum wage. Is that the appropriate approach, in your view?

HOYER: I think it is. I think we're focused on policy. We're focused on the issues that we campaigned on. We told Americans we want to be sure that the preexisting conditions did not prevent them from getting insurance, that we were going to make sure the Affordable Care Act worked for them.

We also said that we were going to try to bring down prescription drug costs and health care costs generally because they're really hurting families. And we also said that we were going to clean up the corruption that allegedly was going to be driven out, but frankly, has been magnified.

INSKEEP: Oh, you're going to try to drain the swamp now, is what you're saying.

HOYER: It's not a question of draining the swamp. That - unfortunately, that term has become not so relevant because the person who said he was going to drain the swamp deepened the swamp.

INSKEEP: Do you assume that you have a lot of vulnerable incumbents to protect now? Because you have a lot...

HOYER: Sure.

INSKEEP: ...Of Democrats who just won districts that were drawn to be Republican. About 20 seconds.

HOYER: I think any time you have a lot of new members, particularly members who took either marginal districts or Republican districts, you have a lot of people that you want to make sure can get re-elected so that we can continue to pursue an agenda that is what the American people want.

INSKEEP: All right. Congressman Hoyer, thanks for your time. I really appreciate it.

HOYER: You bet.

INSKEEP: Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, currently the Democratic whip, candidate for majority leader. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.