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 PelosiPelosi, Mnuchin reach 'near-final agreement' on budget, debt ceiling Wendy Davis launches bid for Congress in Texas Steyer calls on Pelosi to cancel 'six-week vacation' for Congress 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 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 (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 HoyerThis week: Mueller dominates chaotic week on Capitol Hill The 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 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 HigginsHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment On The Money: Sanders unveils plan to wipe .6T in student debt | How Sanders plan plays in rivalry with Warren | Treasury watchdog to probe delay of Harriet Tubman bills | Trump says Fed 'blew it' on rate decision Democrats give Trump trade chief high marks MORE (D-N.Y.) and 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), 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) KhannaHouse to test Trump's veto pen on Saudi arms sales Sanders campaign vents frustration with media, polls Democrats ask Labor Department to investigate Amazon warehouses 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 DavidsHouse Democrats delete tweets attacking each other, pledge to unify Jeffries defends Democratic Caucus tweet slamming Ocasio-Cortez chief of staff Ocasio-Cortez top aide emerges as lightning rod amid Democratic feud MORE, who defeated GOP incumbent Kevin YoderKevin Wayne YoderK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Kansas Senate race splits wide open without Pompeo Mike Pompeo to speak at Missouri-Kansas Forum amid Senate bid speculation 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 HimesThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump creates new firestorm with 'go back' remarks Foreign-born lawmaker: Trump's not going to tell me to 'go back to my country' Battle lines drawn for Mueller testimony 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) 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) 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 LynchHillicon Valley: Appeals court rules Trump can't block people on Twitter | Tech giants to testify in House antitrust investigation | DHS set for grilling over facial recognition tech | Commerce to allow sales to Huawei Facebook official responds to Maxine Waters on cryptocurrency project House Democrats call for Facebook to halt cryptocurrency project 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) GottheimerJeffries defends Democratic Caucus tweet slamming Ocasio-Cortez chief of staff Problem Solvers Caucus co-chair calls Trump comments about progressive congresswomen 'totally unacceptable' Trump's tweets unify a fractured Democratic Party 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 CunninghamThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants House approves bill raising minimum wage to per hour Sanford calls for 'overdue conversation' on debt as he mulls Trump challenge 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 ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedCrucial for Congress to fund life-saving diabetes research House Republicans dismissive of Paul Ryan's take on Trump The 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran 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.