House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) widened the distance between herself and her party chairman's strict abortion views on Tuesday, telling the Washington Post that Democrats could not afford to alienate pro-life voters.
"This is the Democratic Party. This is not a rubber-stamp party," Pelosi said. "I grew up Nancy D'Alesandro, in Baltimore, Maryland; in Little Italy; in a very devout Catholic family; fiercely patriotic; proud of our town and heritage, and staunchly Democratic. Most of those people—my family, extended family—are not pro-choice. You think I'm kicking them out of the Democratic Party?"
Pelosi then said abortion is "kind of fading as an issue."
Although she is pro-choice, Pelosi told the Post that her party needed a more inclusive agenda to win back socially conservative voters. The Democrats are in a weakened governing position: they are out of the White House, hold minorities in both houses of Congress, and control a minority of governorships and state legislatures.
Abortion emerged as a contentious issue within the Democratic Party last month, after new Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) drew fierce left-wing criticism for endorsing a Nebraska mayoral candidate who had backed anti-abortion bills.
Perez released a statement in response to the backlash, stating all candidates running under the Democratic banner must espouse pro-choice views. When asked about Perez's stance on "Meet The Press," Pelosi differed, saying "of course" pro-lifers were welcome in the Democratic Party.
"I have served many years in Congress with members who have not shared my very positive, my family would say aggressive, position on promoting a woman's right to choose," she said.
She went further on Tuesday, the Post reports:
"In our caucus, one thing unifies us: our values about working families," Pelosi said. "Some people are more or less enthusiastic about this issue or that issue or that issue. They'll go along with the program, but their enthusiasm is about America's working families."
She also suggested that the party's presumed rigidity on social issues is one reason that Democrats were unable to appeal to segments of the electorate that might otherwise have been in tune with their broader agenda."You know what? That's why Donald Trump is president of the United States–the evangelicals and the Catholics, anti-marriage equality, anti-choice. That's how he got to be president," she said. "Everything was trumped, literally and figuratively by that."
Ilyse Hogue of the abortion rights group NARAL rebuked Pelosi's comments, emailing the Post, "Encouraging and supporting anti-choice candidates leads to bad policy outcomes that violate women's rights and endanger our economic security."
According to the Post, Pew Research Center polls show roughly 30 percent of Democratic voters believe abortion should be illegal in most or all cases.