Pelosi’s House Rival Denounced As Sexist For Opposing ‘The Most Accomplished Woman in Congress’

by | Nov 22, 2016


We have previously discussed how Democrats have rallied around their leaders despite the failure to secure the White House or the Senate. Democratic leaders engineered the primary selection of Hillary Clinton despite polls showing that voters did not want an establishment figure and had deep seated misgivings about Clinton’s honestly and integrity. One of those leaders who has been most criticized over the years has been Nancy Pelosi. Nevertheless, many Democratic members have rallied to her side while younger members are calling for new leadership. Rep. Tim Ryan stepped forward to challenge Pelosi but he is now being denounced as sexist for even daring to challenge Pelosi after years of Democratic losses.

Ian Millhiser, “justice editor” at ThinkProgress, leveled the charge that you must be a sexist to dare to challenge Pelosi even after the losses this year and in prior years by the Democrats. It appears that it is Pelosi’s gender not her record that dictates such a conclusion. Millhiser wrote:

This thing where an obscure male backbencher thinks he deserves to replace the most accomplished woman in Congress is how sexism works. I’m genuinely curious if anyone can argue why Tim Ryan should replace Pelosi other than ‘she was in the job when something bad happened.’

I am “genuinely curious” how labeling anyone challenging a female leaders as sexist due to her gender is not itself sexist. Pelosi has long been found to be one of the best known and least liked politicians in Washington — an obvious problem for the leader of any party. Moreover, it is precisely the younger members (or in Millhiser’s view, the “obscure” members) who are calling for change in the Democratic leadership.

Pelosi is clearly a historic figure and deserving of respect for her accomplishment as the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives. However, the dismissal of opposition as necessarily sexist is deeply troubling. There is ample reason for Democratic voters and members to want fresh leadership. After losing what was viewed as highly promising election for the Democrats (in part due to the selection of a candidate that Pelosi pushed), why would it be sexist for some to demand new leadership? After all, Democrats lost 63 seats in 2010 and, while the election of President Obama picked up seats, they were defeated again in 2014.

She was retained despite polls that showed her as the least popular figure among the Democratic leadership. Many believe that Pelosi, 76, and other leaders are both unpopular and associated too closely with the ruling establishment in Washington. Some members have grumbled that Pelosi seemed clueless in blaming Comey, millennials and others after predicting on election night an easy win for Clinton, a Democratic takeover of the Senate, and a significant gain of seats in the house. One can certainly argue that Pelosi was not responsible for this defeat, but (given the long decline in the House) it is absurd to dismiss challengers as opposing Pelosi because of her gender.

That brings us back to Ryan from Ohio. I do not know Ryan but it is grossly unfair to label someone a sexist simply because they want a change in leadership.

Ryan has served for 13 years in Congress.

Reprinted with permission from


  • Jonathan Turley

    Professor Jonathan Turley is a nationally recognized legal scholar who has written extensively in areas ranging from constitutional law to legal theory to tort law. He has written over three dozen academic articles that have appeared in a variety of leading law journals at Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Northwestern, University of Chicago, and other schools.

    View all posts