Dems play ‘Let’s make a deal’ with Nancy Pelosi

Dems play ‘Let’s make a deal’ with Nancy Pelosi
© Stefani Reynolds

Everyone wants to cut a deal with Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPhotos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles Hospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan GOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level MORE.

Nine centrist Democrats in the Problem Solvers Caucus are vowing to oppose the powerful California Democrat’s bid for the Speakership unless she agrees to back rules changes that they favor.

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Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonBill seeks to aid families of Black WWII veterans deprived of GI benefits How lawmakers aided the Afghan evacuation GOP lawmaker says he did not threaten US Embassy staff in Tajikistan MORE (D-Mass.), the ring leader of a group of anti-Pelosi rebels, now wants to negotiate with Pelosi about the No. 2 and No. 3 spots in leadership, occupied by Reps. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOvernight Defense & National Security — US tries to deter Russian invasion of Ukraine Senate eyes plan B amid defense bill standoff On The Money — Congress races to keep the lights on MORE (D-Md.) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.), respectively, as well as the length of her potential Speakership.

Two other critics — Reps. Brian HigginsBrian HigginsFDNY 'sickout' intensifies drama over vaccine mandate Biden's keeping the Canada-US border closed makes no sense Biden administration stokes frustration over Canada MORE (D-N.Y.) and Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgeButtigieg has high name recognition, favorability rating in Biden Cabinet: survey Biden, top officials spread out to promote infrastructure package Black Caucus eager to see BBB cross finish line in House MORE (D-Ohio), who contemplated challenging Pelosi — reached separate compromises with the Democratic leader last week and endorsed her.

On Monday, Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the progressive firebrand who supports Pelosi, signaled that she wants a seat on the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee. Pelosi controls the Steering Committee that will dole out panel assignments to incoming freshmen.

The flurry of last-minute haggling comes soon before House Democrats hold a closed-door, secret-ballot vote to nominate Pelosi as the next Speaker.

The holdouts, meanwhile, are trying to hammer out a deal before Wednesday’s vote. They know they’ll have significantly less leverage to negotiate once Pelosi, running unopposed, wins the nomination and more wavering Democrats climb on board, handing her a boost of momentum heading into the Jan. 3 vote on the House floor.

“If you’re going to come to an agreement with Pelosi, this is a good time to do it,” said Higgins, who told The Hill he has encouraged other anti-Pelosi rebels to cut a deal. “There are probably, as we speak, multiple discussions going on with Nancy Pelosi and her senior staff and members, letter signers and those who expressed opposition to find out if there’s any room” for a deal.

“She has a lot of tools available to her from which to appeal to members,” he added.

“Everybody can come out of this with something.”

Added Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaKhanna advocates for 'honest and reflective patriotism' in America Democrats call on Education secretary to address 'stealthing' at federal level Showdown: Pelosi dares liberals to sink infrastructure bill MORE, a Pelosi ally and fellow San Francisco Bay Area Democrat: “Most people realize now that Nancy will be Speaker.”

The eleventh-hour talks also come amid fresh signs that the wall of opposition to Pelosi — who has held a firm grip on the House Democratic Caucus for the past 16 years — is slowly crumbling.

After picking up support from detractors Higgins and Fudge last week, Pelosi continued to amass more endorsements over the Thanksgiving weekend and into Monday. Democratic Rep.-elect Sharice DavidsSharice DavidsAbortion rights group endorsing 12 House Democrats Overnight Health Care — Presented by Altria — Vulnerable House Dems push drug pricing plan Vulnerable House Democrats warn not to drop drug pricing from package MORE, who defeated GOP incumbent Kevin YoderKevin Wayne YoderBottom line Bottom line Bottom line MORE in Kansas this month and had been undecided, said it’s time for Democrats to unite behind the person “who is clearly going to become the next Speaker.”

Rep.-elect Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) became the first of four New Jersey freshmen to endorse Pelosi, saying that she promised him she’ll help secure funding for a local tunnel project and restore state and local tax deductions for his constituents.

On Monday morning, Rep. Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesDemocrats press Biden to step up fight against domestic hunger McCarthy pulls GOP picks off House economic panel Pelosi picks Democrats for special panel tackling inequality MORE (D-Conn.), a member of the New Democrat Coalition who had raised concerns about Pelosi’s age, endorsed the 78-year-old leader after engaging in unspecified negotiations.

By Monday afternoon, Pelosi nabbed another key endorsement. Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), a rising freshman star who campaigned on gun-violence prevention, said Pelosi had committed to bring a firearms background check bill to the floor early in the new Congress and appointed her to the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force.

“The opposition has eroded, both in raw numbers and momentum,” Higgins said. But he added “it’s too soon to declare it dead.”

The Washington Post reported Monday that Moulton appears to be backing off Pelosi and instead taking aim at her top two deputies, Hoyer and Clyburn. That was a positive sign for Pelosi as she heads into Wednesday’s caucus vote.

However, it remains unlikely that Hoyer or Clyburn have much to worry about.

Moulton and Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanSenate race in Ohio poses crucial test for Democrats Democrats brace for flood of retirements after Virginia rout Ohio Republicans swing for fences in redistricting proposals MORE (D-Ohio) had publicly released a letter last week that was signed by 16 Democrats who vowed not to vote for Pelosi for Speaker. But Pelosi successfully picked off Higgins last week, and another signatory, Rep. Stephen LynchStephen Francis LynchLawmakers seek answers on armed services' plans to address gun tracking Left warns Pelosi they'll take down Biden infrastructure bill Pelosi signals she won't move .5T bill without Senate-House deal MORE (D-Mass.), indicated he’ll back Pelosi on the House floor if no other Democrat steps up and challenges her.

Pelosi suffered a minor setback on Monday when Rep.-elect Gil Cisneros, a fellow California Democrat, signed onto the letter opposing Pelosi, bringing the number of dissidents back to 16.

On Monday, Moulton signaled for the first time that he was willing to negotiate with Pelosi and her leadership team.

An aide close to the talks said that there are several different ideas being kicked around among insurgents: Leaders agree to only a one-year term, outline a clear succession plan or promise not to run for another leadership post in 2020. 

The aide also emphasized that there are two camps among the insurgency: the “Never Nancy” folks and those who just want new leadership. The latter camp would be more willing to negotiate, the staffer said.

“Leader Pelosi wants to boil this down to a personal argument, but this is so much bigger than her,” Moulton said in a statement. “It’s about the entire, stagnant, 3-person leadership team and having a serious conversation about promoting leaders who reflect the future of our caucus.”

Regardless, Pelosi is highly unlikely to throw either of her top deputies under the bus.

And neither Moulton nor Pelosi had asked for a meeting with the other as of Monday evening, setting up a potential game of chicken, with both sides under the belief that they are on stronger footing.

Extracting some sort of concession from Pelosi might make it easier for some Democrats, particularly the incoming members who were critical of her on the campaign trail, to vote “present” on the House floor and argue they still got something out of it. Voting “present” would lower the overall threshold needed to become Speaker.

“[Moulton] may be trying to show that they fought for something tangible,” Higgins said.

A key meeting will take place when lawmakers return from the Thanksgiving holiday on Tuesday night. Pelosi and incoming House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) will meet with Rep. Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerFive takeaways: House passes Biden's sweeping benefits bill Dems brace for score on massive Biden bill Democrats bullish they'll reach finish line this week MORE (D-N.J.) and other Democrats in the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, who are threatening to derail Pelosi’s bid unless she adopts a trio of rules changes designed to make it easier for bipartisan bills to go to the floor.

The first of the so-called “Break the Gridlock” changes would automatically grant a vote on the floor to any bill backed by 290 co-sponsors (or three-fifths of the House). The second would allow a vote on an amendment if it receives at least 20 Democratic and 20 Republican co-sponsors.

The third change would allow each House member to introduce one bill for a debate and vote on the committee that they serve on — as long as the measure is germane and has at least one co-sponsor from the opposing party.

Critics say such rules changes would effectively hand over the floor to the minority and just a handful of centrist Democrats. But the Problem Solvers argue that Pelosi may have no choice but to play ball if too many freshmen lawmakers — including Reps.-elect Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamMace chief of staff steps down during turbulent week Pediatrician unveils challenge to GOP's Mace in South Carolina 'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection MORE (D-S.C.) and Max Rose (D-N.Y.) — stick to their campaign pledge and oppose her on the House floor.

While much is uncertain at this point, it is clear that Pelosi will easily win the Democratic nomination for Speaker on Wednesday. It’s the Jan. 3 vote on the House floor that will be the trickier math problem, since she’ll need support from 218 Democrats, or more than half of the 435 House lawmakers.

In the new Congress, Democrats will control 233 seats, meaning Pelosi can only afford to lose 15 Democrats if all Republicans vote against her. (Those numbers could change slightly depending on the outcome of one undecided House race in California.)

“Once she starts doing the math, why would you compound the problem with the Problem Solvers rather than take on reasonable ideas that we’re advocating for?” Rep. Tom ReedTom ReedGOP infighting just gets uglier Lawmakers who bucked their parties on the T infrastructure bill Democratic retirements could make a tough midterm year even worse MORE (R-N.Y.), who co-chairs the Problem Solvers Caucus with Gottheimer, told The Hill on Monday.

“If you are that close to the brass ring, I would think that type of reform is something she could easily accept,” said Reed, who told The Hill earlier this month he is open to voting for Pelosi if she backs his group’s proposed rules changes.