People close to Pelosi say she trusts the president — perhaps moreso than some of her allies in Congress do — to defend core Democratic principles in his dealings with the GOP.
Some Democrats argue that Pelosi's liberal streak might help the president in that context — a bad cop to Obama's good cop.
"In his negotiations with the Republicans, (Obama) needs to be able to say, 'Look, you say you're not going to compromise, but I've got Nancy Pelosi over here who is very passionate about these issues, and I have to listen to what she's saying,'" Cummings said.
It's not likely to be a tidy process.
A band of centrist Democrats who last week failed to oust Pelosi in favor of a fresh, more moderate face for the party is ready to side with Republicans on key issues next year. They say they're eager to work with Obama and the GOP on middle-of-the-road initiatives that are unlikely to be embraced by Pelosi or her liberal allies.
"I'd like to think there's an opportunity to do that," said Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, a leader of the conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats.
The coalition, comprised mostly of Southerners who were once known as "Yellow Dog" Democrats, was born after the Republican takeover of 1994, when it was said they felt "choked blue" by their colleagues on the left.
In those days, Matheson noted, they worked with then-President Bill Clinton on welfare reform and balancing the budget — things that enraged liberals and led to angry accusations that the president was betraying his own party. Welfare is "an example of being honest brokers, working together to get things done, and that's what Blue Dogs want to do."
It's not what Pelosi or many other Democrats have in mind.
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., said Democrats learned from the last two years and their shellacking at the polls that "we need to be more aggressive with the White House. They were looking for what was acceptable and then moving toward that, instead of what was important, and moving toward that," Higgins said. "We need to be true to our principles."
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