The momentum behind House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s bid to regain the Speaker’s gavel grew stronger on Wednesday as one of her chief detractors shifted gears to announce his support for the longtime Democratic leader — the second such reversal in as many days.
Rep. Brian Higgins, a seven-term New York Democrat who endorsed a letter earlier in the week opposing Pelosi’s ascension, told The Buffalo News that he’s struck a deal with Pelosi: she’ll prioritize an infrastructure package and an expansion of Medicare next year, in return for his support.
“I have an agreement in principle with the Democratic leader that those are going to be two priorities, and that I will be the lead person on the Medicare buy-in,” Higgins told the newspaper
The surprising news comes just hours after another of Pelosi’s chief critics, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), also reversed course
and will support Pelosi for Speaker.
Fudge last week was mulling a challenge to Pelosi, and the pair huddled in Pelosi’s Capitol office on Friday.
On Tuesday night, Fudge announced that she, too, had been won over by an offer from Pelosi: Fudge, former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), will lead a currently defunct subcommittee on elections next year to allow her to tackle issues related to voting protections — a topic of particular interest among members of the CBC.
The Higgins’s and Fudge’s defections mark a fierce blow to the small but determined group of rebellious Democrats scrambling to block Pelosi’s path to the Speakership next year. The insurgents’ draft letter initially had 17 signatures, but Fudge removed her name on Monday, just hours before it was released, putting the number at 16, including Higgins.
Higgins’s reversal suggests that even those endorsing the anti-Pelosi missive are not as dug-in as the insurgent leaders have suggested. And Pelosi, a master vote-getter who’s led the Democrats since 2003, has plenty of tools at her disposal as she fights to erode the opposition even further.
Aside from extending committee posts, Pelosi also has a heavy hand in doling out office space, appointing special assignments and approving travel for research purposes.
Higgins, just reelected to his eighth term representing upstate New York, said he was won over by Pelosi’s vow to move quickly on a sweeping infrastructure package — a promise central to the Democrats’ campaign message this year — and make him the point man on efforts to expand Medicare to include a buy-in option for those aged 50 or older.
Higgins told the Buffalo News that he spoke directly with Pelosi “three or four times” in recent days, and also had discussions with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D), a fellow New Yorker, who also vowed to make Higgins’s priorities his own.
The Pelosi talks were brokered by Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), who’s in line to take the gavel of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, of which Higgins is a member, according to a statement released by Higgins Wednesday morning.
“Some will ask why I have changed my position. The answer is simple: I took a principled stand on issues of vital importance not only to my constituents in Western New York but also to more than 300 million Americans whose lives can be improved by progress in these areas,” Higgins said in a statement.
“A principled stand, however, often requires a pragmatic outlook in order to meet with success.”
Pelosi quickly hailed Higgins on Wednesday, calling him “an extraordinary leader on the issue of achieving quality, affordable health care for all Americans.”
“We looking forward to working together to lower the cost of health care for hard-working families and raise their paychecks by building infrastructure of America, which is also an important issue to Congressman Higgins,” Pelosi said in a statement.
“I am honored by his support.”