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 Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiFreedom Caucus calls on leadership to include wall funding, end to 'catch and release' in funding bill Black Caucus huddles as talk of term limits heats up Insurgent Dems amplify push for term limits on party leaders 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 VelaInsurgent Dems amplify push for term limits on party leaders WHIP LIST: Pelosi seeks path to 218 Fudge endorses Nancy Pelosi in surprise move MORE (D-Texas) said he’s “100 percent” certain the insurgents will block Pelosi’s ascension, while Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John RyanOn The Money: Trump touts China actions day after stock slide | China 'confident' on new trade deal | GM chief meets lawmakers to calm anger over cuts | Huawei CFO arrested GM chief meets lawmakers to calm anger over cuts GM lobbyists go into full crisis mode over layoffs 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 PerlmutterInsurgent Dems amplify push for term limits on party leaders Black Caucus chairman pushes back against committee term limits Report: Pelosi weighing placing term limits on committee chairs 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 HoyerInsurgent Dems amplify push for term limits on party leaders Overnight Energy — Sponsored by the National Biodiesel Board — Key Dem backs Green New Deal | Activists protest fossil fuel presentation at climate meeting | Judge won't allow 'preconstruction' work on Keystone XL More protesters storm Pelosi's office demanding climate change action 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 RiceWHIP LIST: Pelosi seeks path to 218 The Hill's Morning Report — Intraparty skirmishes light up lame-duck session Pelosi wins, but needs more votes on floor 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 SchraderWHIP LIST: Pelosi seeks path to 218 Problem Solvers Dems urge Pelosi to publicly back three rules changes Problem Solvers Dems: We 'cannot support' Pelosi for Speaker 'at this time' 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 MoultonWHIP LIST: Pelosi seeks path to 218 Moulton calls out Ocasio-Cortez's tweet defending Pelosi as 'offensive' The Hill's Morning Report — Intraparty skirmishes light up lame-duck session MORE (Mass.), Conor Lamb (Pa.) and Bill FosterGeorge (Bill) William FosterWHIP LIST: Pelosi seeks path to 218 16 Dems sign letter opposing Pelosi as Speaker Pelosi and her opponents voice confidence over Speakership battle 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 FudgeInsurgent Dems amplify push for term limits on party leaders Nancy Pelosi's incredible comeback Education, success do not merit moral impunity 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 KnightRyan casts doubt on 'bizarre' California election results Calif. congresswoman-elect bumps into Pelosi at airport Democratic gains erasing House GOP in California 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.