WASHINGTON — House Democrats elected Nancy Pelosi to remain as their leader Wednesday despite massive party losses in this month's congressional elections that prompted some lawmakers to call for new leadership.
Pelosi, the nation's first female House speaker, will become minority leader when Republicans assume the majority in the new Congress in January.
She defeated moderate Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina, 150-43, in secret balloting in a lengthy closed-door gathering of House Democrats in the Capitol.
Pelosi, 70, overcame a rebellion from party centrists, and even some fellow liberals, who argued that the party needs to offer a new face of leadership after losing at least 60 House seats on Nov. 2. She remains popular among the liberals who dominate the party's House caucus. But Shuler's level of support — plus an earlier 129-68 vote against postponing the election that Pelosi wanted to wrap up quickly — underscored the degree of discontent in a party that Pelosi had largely bended to her will in the past four years.
Republicans were poised Wednesday to vote to keep John Boehner of Ohio as their top House leader, positioning him to become speaker in the new Congress.
Many House Democrats defended Pelosi, who said the bad economy and high unemployment were the reasons for her party's election losses.
But others said Republicans had found too much success in running ads all over the country attacking Pelosi and linking her to other Democrats.
"The truth is, she is the face that defeated us in this last election," said Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla., who lost his reelection bid this month.
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, had wanted to give party members more time to mull the election's meaning and its impact on leadership decisions.
"We've got to get our message right," Ryan said. "After a loss this substantial, there's a lot of people that just think we need to take our time and reflect about the direction we're going in, what issues we're going to focus on, what could we have done better....It's important that the next step that we take is very well thought out."