Insurgents seek female challenger to replace Pelosi

The anti-Pelosi insurgents are coalescing around a new strategy in their quest to deny Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPelosi, Dem rebels near deal on term limits for party leaders Pelosi divides Democrats with term-limit proposal Oval Office clash ups chances of shutdown MORE (D-Calif.) the Speaker's gavel: recruit a woman to run against her.

The shift in approach comes as the rebellious group has been faced with a barrage of criticism for trying to take down Pelosi, who became the first female Speaker of the House in 2007, on the heels of an election cycle being dubbed the "Year of the Woman."

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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 Pelosi detractor, hammered the argument that the California Democrat's promotion is the only way to secure female leadership at the very top of the party.

“To those who say that this is an issue of gender, that’s just not true. I’m a woman, and a lot of our new members are women, and they should not be made to feel that they are anti-woman if they don’t want to vote for Nancy Pelosi,” Rice said Wednesday, leaving a closed-door Democratic meeting in the Capitol.

“We have an enormous number of talented women in the caucus — an enormous number.”

Pelosi and her allies have made her gender — and the fact that Democrats won the House largely on the backs of women voters and candidates — a central part of their pitch, arguing they need a strong female voice at the leadership table, especially with President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republicans move to block Yemen war-powers votes for rest of Congress Trump says he's considering 10 to 12 contenders for chief of staff Michael Flynn asks judge to spare him from jail time MORE in the White House.

A record-breaking 129 women were elected to serve in Congress next year — up from 112 this current session, according to Quorum, a legislative tracking company. That includes 35 new women in the House.

“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.”

Critics, however, are now trying to combat that narrative and turn the tables on the Pelosi camp by adopting a similar argument centering on the need for a female leader.

"Just look at the amazing number of women who ran and won on a platform of change. People of color ... historic number of women veterans," Rep. Seth MoultonSeth Wilbur MoultonPelosi, Dem rebels near deal on term limits for party leaders WHIP LIST: Pelosi seeks path to 218 Moulton calls out Ocasio-Cortez's tweet defending Pelosi as 'offensive' MORE (D-Mass.) told CNN's Chris Cuomo Wednesday night. "We need to answer that call for change, and change in leadership."

Hoping to overcome one of their biggest hurdles in thwarting Pelosi, the insurgent group has been ramping up its efforts to recruit a female challenger, with 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) notably telling reporters for the first time Wednesday night that he thinks a woman should replace Pelosi atop the Democratic caucus.

Among female candidates Ryan has floated are Democratic Reps. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosThe Hill's Morning Report — Markets on edge over Trump, Xi trade negotiations House Dems worry about lack of women of color in leadership Bustos elected to lead Democratic campaign arm MORE (Ill.), Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeLuján will have 'assistant Speaker' title Insurgent Dems amplify push for term limits on party leaders Nancy Pelosi's incredible comeback MORE (Ohio) and Karen BassKaren Ruth BassPelosi divides Democrats with term-limit proposal Hoyer bucks Pelosi over term limits: 'She's not negotiating for me' Incoming CBC chairwoman says voting rights will be a top priority MORE (Calif.). Ryan said he has urged the latter two to run.

Fudge appeared receptive to the idea on Tuesday, telling reporters she was considering a bid for Speaker.

“I have ruled out nothing,” she said. “I am getting encouraged. That’s what made me start thinking about it.”

Ryan, who ran against Pelosi in 2016 but who has so far declined to mount a challenge this year, hailed Fudge’s leadership expertise, noting that she was a former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

He also argued that elevating Bustos, a fellow Midwesterner, to the top spot would provide some much needed representation for the heartland.

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

Bustos, who is backing Pelosi, told The Hill that she has been approached by colleagues encouraging her to run, but said she is only interested in leading the House Democratic campaign arm.

A number of incoming freshman had opposed Pelosi on the campaign trail, and a handful of them are now vowing to oppose her on the House floor. The list includes at least a pair of women: Rep.-elects Abigail Spanberger (Va.) and Mikie Sherrill (N.J.).

While the group of Pelosi critics now claims to have around 20 members who are willing to vote against the longtime Democratic leader on the House floor, it has so far struggled to put up a viable candidate. The rebels say that’s because members are too scared to openly challenge Pelosi, a party heavyweight.

“People are very sensitive to getting into this race right now, under current circumstances,” Ryan said. “But if circumstances change, then there will be a lot of people who are very interested in getting in.”

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Rep. Filemon VelaFilemon Bartolome VelaPelosi, Dem rebels near deal on term limits for party leaders Insurgent Dems amplify push for term limits on party leaders WHIP LIST: Pelosi seeks path to 218 MORE (D-Texas), among the most vocal Pelosi critics, said there’s “wide consensus” within the group of insurgents to support a woman for either the No. 1 or No. 2 spot.

“I agree with the premise that — not just because this is the year of the woman — but given the role of women in our nation’s history at this particular point in history, that it’s important to have a woman at the top,” Vela said. “We’re going to make every effort on our end to ensure there’s a woman [seated].”

Vela mentioned three female lawmakers in the insurgent camp — Reps. Rice, Fudge and Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) — whom he characterized as “well prepared” to tackle a top leadership role.

“But beyond that,” Vela continued, “there are tens of other women in the caucus that I think would do a tremendous job leading us going forward.”