Four centrist Democrats buck Pelosi

House Democrats launched the 114th Congress this week almost fully united behind Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as their party leader.

Four centrist Democrats bucked Pelosi in Tuesday's much-watched vote for Speaker, including Reps. Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Daniel Lipinski (Ill.), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and newcomer Gwen Graham (Fla.).

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The vote was primarily symbolic, as there was never a real doubt that Rep. John BoehnerJohn BoehnerIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable House GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns MORE (R-Ohio) would win the Speakership after boosting the GOP majority in the midterm elections or that the minority Democrats would elect Pelosi. 

But 25 Republicans defected against BoehnerJohn BoehnerIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable House GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns MORE for the top spot following a very public campaign for more conservative leadership in 114th Congress. And in contrast, Pelosi's near-unanimous support from her troops sends a signal that, while the Democrats may have lost ground at the polls in November, they remain united behind Pelosi and her vision for leading the party out of the minority.

It wasn't always such. 

After the Democrats were trampled at the polls in 2010, when they lost 63 seats and control of the House, 20 rank-and-file members declined to back Pelosi in the vote for Speaker. 

That number plummeted two years ago, when five Blue Dog Democrats voted for figures other than Pelosi for Speaker. 

The lesser defections in recent years is at least partially a reflection of a changing Democratic caucus, as most of the centrist Democrats who voted against Pelosi are no longer in Congress. Indeed, of the five members who bucked Pelosi in 2013, only two – Cooper and Lipinski – remain on Capitol Hill in the 114th Congress.

Cooper, who had voted two years ago for former Secretary of State Colin Powell, did so again on Tuesday. Lipinski voted for Rep. Peter DeFazio (D), a liberal firebrand from Oregon. Sinema picked Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the civil rights icon. And Graham, who had made it a campaign promise not to support Pelosi for Speaker, voted for Cooper.

At least 18 Democrats were absent from the vote, most of them New Yorkers who were attending Tuesday's funeral for former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo (D). The absentees lowered the number of votes Boehner needed to retain his gavel, but in the end didn't ultimately matter since he won 216 votes anyway. 

The large show of support for Pelosi could have policy implications, as Boehner's struggles to rally the support of his conservative conference throughout the 112th and 113th Congresses are widely thought to carry over into the 114th — a dynamic highlighted by the conservatives' attempted coup on Tuesday.

Those dynamics give rare leverage to Pelosi and the Democrats, who will likely be needed to pass the fundamental spending bills that keep the government running. The more unified the Democrats are, the more power they'll have in those debates.

This post was updated at 3:54 p.m.