WASHINGTON — Rep. Kathleen Rice spoke with animation Wednesday about the need to hold party leaders accountable as she stood outside the room where she and 62 other Democrats had just voted against re-electing Rep. Nancy Pelosi as House minority leader.
Rice, the first to endorse Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) for that post, said, “He got more votes than anyone who has ever challenged Nancy Pelosi before. We’re going to take up some changes in our caucus rules and hopefully the leader will demonstrate that she has heard the message.”
Rice, 51, a Garden City Democrat and former prosecutor, will become the senior House Democrat from Long Island next year after spending the past two years finding her footing as a first-time legislator.
Last week Rice said she now will take a higher-profile role in Washington and will speak out more often to prod her party to retool to win back voters who switched to Republican Donald Trump on Nov. 8.
Rice said she and her colleagues are frustrated at being in the House minority.
“I am a person who likes to get things done,” Rice said. “The way you get things done in Washington is that you have to be in the majority.”
By boldly opposing Pelosi, Rice could be looking down the road to the day when a new leader takes over.
“I think this is long-term play,” said Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs. “If you want to be a leader in the future, you have to take some risks in the present.”
Bohemia Republican political consultant Michael Dawidziak said, “I think she is on the right side of history. Nancy Pelosi’s time has come and gone.”
Pelosi, 76, remains a polarizing national figure but also an iconic and powerful Democrat who served as the first female House speaker from 2007-2011. That was the last time Democrats controlled the House.
On Wednesday, Pelosi won her eighth term as House Democratic leader. But she showed she had heard the dissent and approved rule changes that ends her ability to appoint some members of the leadership team.
On Thursday, the caucus approved allowing members to vote on the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, whose job is to elect Democrats to the House, as well as two new posts for a freshman lawmaker and a member who has served less than five terms.
“This is progress that is absolutely essential,” Rice said.
Yet Rice said she does not intend to seek one of those posts. “It’s not the point of my activism,” she said.
Rice’s emergence as a critic of Pelosi and her team coincides with the retirement of her district neighbor Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington).
Israel, a Pelosi ally who led the DCCC in 2012 and 2014 and now chairs the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, did not respond to a query for comment.
On Nov. 20, the day Rice announced she backed Pelosi challenger Ryan, Israel tweeted, “Can critics of @NancyPelosi point to a district we’d have won with a different leader? I can point to many we’d have lost without her.”
Rice said her party’s leaders must hear ideas of their members from across the country and in districts like hers, and not rely solely on Washington consultants and pollsters.
“We have just posted our fourth losing election cycle, and no one is being held accountable. No one has said, ‘This is where we went wrong,’ ” Rice said.
“The number one step is a full post-mortem of the 2016 election, and, by the way for that matter, 2010, 2012 and 2014 as well, because that’s the only way we can come up with a winning strategy,” she said.
“My concern is that leadership feels that we have to just wait until 2018 and it’s going to be a referendum on Trump and we’re just going to zoom back to the majority,” Rice said. “We can’t rely on those kinds of assumptions.”