Pelosi leans on Dems for support

Pelosi leans on Dems for support
© Greg Nash

The Pelosi machine is in full force.

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDACA recipient claims Trump is holding ‘immigrant youth hostage’ amid quest for wall Fox’s Wallace to Pence: Is government shutdown all about ‘leverage?' Former House Republican: Trump will lose the presidency if he backs away from border security MORE (D-Calif.) has launched a fierce lobbying campaign within her caucus to become the next Speaker, pressing Democrats to publicly declare their support for her in an effort designed both to show her strength in the race and discourage detractors who are scrambling to block her ascension.

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Pelosi, 78, has been “working the phones nonstop” over the past few days, targeting those lawmakers “who may be close to some of the insurgents and are getting pressured by some of those insurgents,” said a Democratic aide whose boss has been on the receiving end of the campaign. To boost her odds of success, Pelosi has recruited congressional allies, friendly chiefs of staff and lobbyists off Capitol Hill, who are all showering on-the-fence lawmakers with phone calls, texts and emails.

“There is no question in my mind that she is concerned. She wants to get the votes,” the aide said Monday. “I think she can get them, because there’s nobody better at counting votes than Nancy Pelosi.”

Her campaign has found early success. Several members who have been previously critical of leadership reversed course in recent days and released official statements in support of Pelosi.

And the top Democrats on three investigative committees, who had been armed by Pelosi’s allies with key messaging points, fanned out on the Sunday news shows where they gave high-profile endorsements.

The show of strength not only put key supporters on the record, but it also sent a not-so-subtle message to the rest of the conference: If even former critics are backing Pelosi, the insurgency is futile and those on the fence should simply fall in line.

“She’s not going to be run out of town,” said a former Democratic leadership aide.

Pelosi foresees the end of her long leadership reign and is working on the “transition” she’s promised, the former aide added. “But it ain’t gonna be on anybody else’s terms.”

Pelosi expressed confidence last week that she will secure the Speaker’s gavel after Democrats seized control of the House, though she acknowledged it’s not going to be a cake walk, like when she first won the job in 2006 with unanimous Democratic support.

Her pitch this time is simple: No one is more experienced to protect Obama-era victories like the Affordable Care Act, and there needs to be a woman at the leadership table to take on President TrumpDonald John TrumpGillibrand cites spirituality in 2020 fight against Trump’s ‘dark’ values High school basketball team pulls out of game after controversy over fans with Trump sign Elise Stefanik seeks to tackle GOP’s women ‘crisis’ ahead of 2020 MORE.

“You cannot have the four leaders of Congress, the president of the United States — these five people — and not have the voice of women, especially since women were the majority of the voters, the workers and campaigns and now part of this glorious victory,” Pelosi said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

But there is a small yet vocal group of anti-Pelosi insurgents who are vowing to oppose her, and a number of candidates were critical of the longtime Democratic leader on the campaign trail. That could pose a serious threat to Pelosi’s bid for Speaker, depending on the size of the new Democratic majority and how many in the party are willing to vote against her.

Rep.-elect Mikie Sherrill, a New Jersey Democrat, added herself to that list on Monday.

“I have been talking about how important it is we have new leadership in Congress right now,” Sherrill told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “And so I won’t be voting for Nancy Pelosi.”

“I do think it is important we move forward with new leadership,” she said, while noting that Pelosi has been “effective” in her role as party leader in the House.

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Throughout the midterm campaign season, Pelosi was notably accepting of Democrats vowing to oppose her leadership aspirations. She encouraged them to win, whatever it took, and didn’t lobby for any support before Election Day.

But now, with just two weeks before the Democratic leadership elections and the party on track to pick up about 35 seats, Pelosi has been campaigning aggressively behind the scenes to line up votes.

She has been working the phones, personally asking lawmakers for their support and even encouraging members to show their commitments publicly. The whip operation officially kicked off Wednesday and continued through the weekend.

An aide for Pelosi said no one has been forced to stake out their positions, but it’s an idea that has been suggested whenever a supporter asks how they can be helpful.

One text reviewed by The Hill, however, indicated that Pelosi is seeking concrete commitments, in hopes of publicly highlighting them.

A former Democratic lawmaker said Pelosi, in tough fights like this one, shifts gears and adopts a no-nonsense persona — “I call it ‘the Baltimore Nancy,’ ” the lawmaker said, an allusion to Pelosi’s roots in the rough-and-tumble world of Charm City politics.

“She doesn’t swear, but when she does,” said the lawmaker, trailing off. The lawmaker predicted her message to the fence-sitters. “ ‘No more bullshit. … You haven’t made up your mind? We’re going to hold the vote until you do, and you’re going to tell us [where you stand].’ And she’s going to do that.”

Pelosi has already peeled off support from some of her former critics. That includes Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), who openly criticized the party’s campaign efforts after the disappointing 2016 elections, and Rep. Albio SiresAlbio B. SiresThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Amazon picks NYC, Northern Virginia for new offices | CNN suing Trump over Acosta press pass | Pelosi machine lobbies for Speakership Pelosi leans on Dems for support Republicans top Dems at charity golf game MORE (D-N.J.), who signed a letter earlier this year supporting a proposal that would have made it harder for Pelosi to secure the gavel.

Pelosi also blasted out a letter to the Democratic caucus on Monday urging members to unify when they return to Washington this week — a message that could be seen as applying to the leadership fight.

“In the next few weeks, we need to be unified, find common ground with Republicans in our legislative engagements, but stand our ground when we must,” she wrote.

The full-court press for Pelosi has also included enlisting left-leaning outside groups to tout their endorsements through tweets, statements and letters. Organizations like the Feminist Majority, Protect Our Care, AFL-CIO, National Education Foundation and People for the American Way have all voiced support for Pelosi in recent days.

“I don’t think people think she can be beat,” said one Democratic chief of staff tracking leadership races. “No one has the tool kit and relationships that she has.”

Pelosi’s critics, meanwhile, have struggled to coalesce around a candidate to run against her. While Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John RyanHow Pelosi is punishing some critics while rewarding others Dem leaders avert censure vote against Steve King McCarthy rejects idea of censuring Steve King MORE (D-Ohio) posed a challenge in 2016, he has so far declined to jump in this year.

Rep. Ed PerlmutterEdwin (Ed) George PerlmutterTrump snubs highlight Pelosi’s grip on Dems This week: Shutdown showdown looms over new Congress House lawmakers look to reassure Australia after Mattis resignation MORE (D-Colo.), one of the lawmakers leading the charge to oust Pelosi, predicted a challenger will emerge before the Nov. 28 leadership elections within the caucus. But the real goal, he added, is to prevent Pelosi from getting the support of the majority in the subsequent Speaker vote on the House floor — a situation that would force her to step aside and spark a scramble to fill the void.

“There’s always this comment, ‘You can’t beat somebody with nobody,’ ” Perlmutter said by phone. “Well, that’s just not true when you have to meet a [majority] threshold.”

Pelosi’s critics say they’ve found a dozen incumbent lawmakers willing to vote against her in the Speaker vote on the floor, which will occur in the first days of January. And the insurgents have been scouring the campaign comments from incoming freshmen, identifying 12 who have been critical of the Democratic leader to some degree.

“Some were soft,” said an aide familiar with the detractors’ strategy, and could probably be persuaded either to support her or vote “present.”

But, the aide added, “there’s no way eight of those 12 could ever say her name on the floor.”

Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas), a Blue Dog Democrat, said those incoming lawmakers are in a “tricky” spot, warning that supporting Pelosi after telling voters differently will make them vulnerable to easy GOP attacks in 2020.

“That could expose them to possible defeat,” said Cuellar, who backs Pelosi but wants assurances of House rules changes empowering all members. “I would caution those members to be careful.”

Perlmutter said the insurgents are making progress “slowly but surely,” targeting incumbents and newcomers alike in an aggressive phone campaign that ran through the weekend.

“The calls are going out there. They are not met with ire or anger or resistance, because there’s a recognition that, you know, there’s been this leadership team in place for a very long time,” Perlmutter said. “And it may stay in position, but I don’t think so.”

Scott Wong contributed.