Pelosi and her opponents voice confidence over Speakership battle

Pelosi and her opponents voice confidence over Speakership battle
© Greg Nash

The fight over the future of Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump telling aides to look at potential spending cuts if he wins reelection: report Budget talks between White House, Pelosi spill into weekend Trump says he won't watch Mueller testimony MORE (D-Calif.) roared forward on Wednesday, with both the minority leader and her most vocal Democratic critics claiming enough support to prevail in an internecine brawl that seems increasingly likely to rest on the judgment of the party’s huge incoming class.

Pelosi’s critics said they’ve already rallied the opposition to prevent the California liberal from seizing the Speaker’s gavel in the next Congress, just weeks after she guided the party to sweeping midterm victories and the House majority. 

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Rep. Filemon VelaFilemon Bartolome VelaThe Hill's Campaign Report: Second debate lineups set up high-profile clash Democratic staffer says Wendy Davis will run for Congress Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment MORE (D-Texas) said he’s “100 percent” certain the insurgents will block Pelosi’s ascension, while Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John RyanDemocratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over 'send her back' coverage The Hill's Campaign Report: Second debate lineups set up high-profile clash MORE (D-Ohio) said the defectors have already won commitments from more than 20 like-minded Democrats to oppose her in the Speaker’s contest on the House floor, a vote scheduled for Jan. 3. 

“We need be prepared for what's going to happen when she can't get to 218,” Ryan said. “And we need start thinking about who are these women who are capable, and we can take the lead.”

At the same time, the insurgents have declined to say how many signatures they’ve won on a letter meant to show their strength, or when it will be released. Ryan said it may emerge this week, or they may hold it longer to gather more support.

“If the momentum keeps building, like we see it is, then we may keep it open for a little while,” he said. “We want to make sure we have the maximum number on it.” 

Rep. Ed PerlmutterEdwin (Ed) George PerlmutterHillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp On The Money: Liberal Dems warn moderates against changes to minimum wage bill | House grapples with Facebook's Libra | Congress, White House inch closer to budget deal | Blue states sue over tax law regulations House asks Facebook: 'What is Libra?' MORE (D-Colo.), another Pelosi detractor, suggested the insurgents have some time to play with, since their ultimate goal is to block her on the House floor next year.

“Jan. 3 is the date,” Perlmutter said. 

If Pelosi and her allies are sweating the challenge, they for the most part aren’t showing it.

No one has emerged as a challenger to Pelosi, cutting into arguments that she is really threatened.

Pelosi predicted in no uncertain terms that she’ll retake the Speaker’s gavel she lost after the Democrats were walloped at the polls in 2010. 

“I’m just going to say that I will be Speaker,” Pelosi said Wednesday morning, leaving a closed-door meeting of the Democratic Caucus in the basement of the Capitol.

Pelosi, 78, has led the Democrats since 2003, ushering the party to a House majority in 2006, and becoming the first female Speaker in the country’s history in the process. 

Yet her long tenure at the helm has increasingly agitated a newer crop of Democratic lawmakers who are pressing to wield more power in the top-heavy caucus. Many of them are calling for an ouster of not only Pelosi, but her top lieutenants — Reps. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThe House Democrats who voted to kill impeachment effort Overnight Defense: House votes to block Trump arms sales to Saudis, setting up likely veto | US officially kicks Turkey out of F-35 program | Pentagon sending 2,100 more troops to border House votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale MORE (D-Md.) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.) — as well.

“This is not an age thing. This is not a gender thing. It’s not a where-you-come-from geographic thing. It’s not a racial thing,” said Rep. Kathleen RiceKathleen Maura RiceDemocrat offers measure to prevent lawmakers from sleeping in their offices Hillicon Valley: Pelosi blasts Facebook for not taking down doctored video | Democrats push election security after Mueller warning | Critics dismiss FCC report on broadband access | Uber to ban passengers with low ratings Lawmakers raise security concerns about China building NYC subway cars MORE (D-N.Y.), one of Pelosi’s sharpest critics. “It’s: this leadership teams needs to turn the reins over to the next generation of Democrats.

“I have said from the very beginning that all three offices should be vacated.”

It’s unclear if a challenger to Pelosi will even emerge before Nov. 28, when Democrats will vote behind closed doors on their leaders.

But Pelosi’s opponents say if they can show in that meeting that Pelosi lacks the votes to win the Speakership in a public vote on the floor, she’ll back out of the race, sparking a new nomination contest among newer members.

“We’ve got enough votes,” said Rep. Kurt SchraderWalter (Kurt) Kurt SchraderThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants House approves bill raising minimum wage to per hour GOP scores procedural win by securing more funding to enforce Iran sanctions MORE (D-Ore.). “What we’re trying to do is make sure there’s an opportunity for someone to step down and allow new leadership to come forward.”

Other lawmakers vowing to oppose Pelosi on the floor include Democratic Reps. Seth MoultonSeth Wilbur MoultonStanley McChrystal endorses Moulton for president 2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally 2020 Democratic candidates rip Trump remarks at campaign rally MORE (Mass.), Conor Lamb (Pa.) and Bill FosterGeorge (Bill) William FosterNew bill would restrict Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from lobbying Pelosi joins other Dem leaders in support of Chicago Symphony Orchestra strikers This week: Shutdown showdown looms over new Congress MORE (Ill.). 

Vela said Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), the vice chairman of the caucus who had called for a leadership overhaul last year, is also on board. And “there are more signatures coming in,” he said.

“I think you’ll be surprised,” Vela said.

Sánchez’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The precise number of detractors needed to block Pelosi’s ascension remains unclear, because a number of midterm races around the country are still undecided. Based on projections, Pelosi could likely lose between 12 and 17 Democratic votes and still secure the gavel.

Both sides have been leaning hard on the incoming Democratic freshman, who arrived in Washington Tuesday for a whirlwind orientation that’s found them bombarded with questions about their position on Pelosi.

“Our new members are just basically under siege at this point,” said Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment New York bans discrimination against natural hair Democrats already jockeying for House leadership posts MORE (D-Ohio), a Pelosi detractor who hasn’t ruled out her own run at the Speakership.

A number of incoming freshman hail from conservative-leaning districts and had run campaigns vowing to oppose Pelosi if voters sent them to Washington. Several have asserted clearly that they’ll oppose her on the floor, a list that includes Rep.-elects Abigail Spanberger (Va.), Mikie Sherrill (N.J.) and Jason Crow (Colo.). 

Other incoming freshman, however, were quick to announce their support. 

“I’m from California; I’m a Democrat; I’m a woman,” said Rep.-elect Katie Hill, 31, who defeated Rep. Steve KnightStephen (Steve) Thomas KnightRepublican fighter pilot to challenge freshman Dem in key California race Freshman Dem endorses Harris’s 2020 bid GOP trading fancy offices, nice views for life in minority MORE (R) in Southern California.

“I’m going to end up voting for her.”

Pelosi spent Wednesday meeting with various different groups within the divisive caucus.

In the morning, she huddled with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, some of whom have been critical of her leadership. Later in the day, Pelosi met with Democrats in the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of moderates seeking an overhaul to House rules. Some of them are hinging their Speaker vote on Pelosi’s endorsement of their reforms, and she wasted no time afterwards assuring them that changes are forthcoming.

“We had a positive and constructive meeting, and will continue to work together to develop changes to the rules that will break the gridlock in Washington and deliver results for hard-working Americans,” Pelosi said afterwards in a statement. 

Pelosi has also gathered support from a long and growing list of powerful outside groups, including labor unions, health-care organizations and abortion rights groups. 

Her critics have responded that Pelosi is selfish to ask incoming freshman to support a leader they told voters they’d oppose — perhaps at risk of their reelections in 2020.

“We have to do everything we can to keep all these new members here, to support them in whatever campaign promises that they made,” Rice said. 

Amid the turbulent fight over Pelosi, the incoming freshman huddled with the caucus in the Capitol basement Wednesday for the first time since their elections. Hill, of California, said she’d delivered a message to the incumbents, on behalf of the newcomers. 

“We just want to move on,” Hill said. 

Melanie Zanona contributed.