WASHINGTON – Rep. Brian Higgins this week took his opposition to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to a new level, signing onto an effort to change party rules in a way that could hamper her efforts to win back the speakership if Democrats take control of the House in the November election.
Higgins and 10 other House Democrats signed a letter to the Democratic caucus chairman proposing the rules change.
The proposal would require that any Democratic speaker candidate would have to win the support of 218 House Democrats in a party caucus before the speaker vote on floor of the 435-member House. That's a much tougher task than what's called for under the current rules, in which the Democratic caucus chooses its speaker candidate by a simple majority vote.
Higgins said Thursday that his support of the rules change is connected to his decision that he will not support Pelosi for another term as the House's top Democrat.
"My issue with the leader is based on my experience – that I think the House of Representatives is underperforming and has been negligent in many ways under both (Republican Speaker) Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi," said Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat.
Higgins announced in July that he would not support Pelosi, a Californian who served as the first female speaker of the House, for another term as the chamber's top Democrat.
Calling Pelosi "aloof, frenetic and misguided," Higgins tied his decision in part to the Democratic leadership's lack of interest in two of his own bills: a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan and legislation that would allow Americans from the ages of 50 to 64 to buy into Medicare, the federal health care program for Americans over age 65.
Higgins mentioned those issues again Thursday, saying the Democratic leadership had not developed a strong, clear message for candidates nationwide to deliver as they fight to win the 24 additional seats Democrats need to regain control of the House.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado spearheaded the effort to get a vote on the proposed rules change, with the Democratic caucus set to vote on Wednesday. Rep. Kathleen Rice of Nassau County was the only other New York Democrat to sign the letter.
"It's no secret that I think our caucus needs new leadership," Rice said in a statement. "But more than that, I think we should have a process that fosters consensus, gives each member a voice and affords prospective leadership candidates a genuine opportunity to make their case before their colleagues."
A senior Democratic leadership aide said, though, that the effort to change the rules was both futile and counterproductive.
The party rebels "demonstrated their own weakness" by publishing a letter that only 11 lawmakers signed, said the aide, who contended that Pelosi is the only leadership candidate who could conceivably win 218 votes from among the Democrats anyway.
In addition, the effort to change party rules next week is unfair to what's likely to be a large class of new Democratic lawmakers to be elected in November, that source noted.
What's more, the leadership aide said, Pelosi has been pushing infrastructure investment and health care as two of the party's two key issues, and Democratic candidates from across the country are doing the same.
The leadership aide also faulted Higgins and his allies for creating a "Democrats in disarray" narrative at a time when the party's candidates should be aiming their fire at Republicans.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, made that same point Thursday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
"I think it's a huge mistake to be fighting over the leadership and the rules at a time when we haven't won the midterms," Schiff said. "The midterms are still almost seven weeks away and all of our focus ought to be on that, not creating internal conflict within the caucus."