Intrigue surrounds Nancy Pelosi vote

Intrigue surrounds Nancy Pelosi vote
© Greg Nash

One of the most unusual and important Speaker races in history will begin Wednesday, when Democrats decide behind closed doors whether Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: GOP senator says drug price action unlikely this year | House panel weighs ban on flavored e-cigs | New York sues Juul Five things to know about Tuesday's impeachment hearings McConnell hopes Senate impeachment trial 'not too lengthy a process' MORE (Calif.) will be their next leader.

The result of Wednesday’s vote is completely predictable: Pelosi is going to win. But the process surrounding the contest and the political machinations between Wednesday and a Jan. 3 public floor vote for the Speakership are filled with intrigue and uncertainty.

ADVERTISEMENT

“We won’t be surprised when she wins tomorrow,” a Democratic aide associated with Pelosi’s detractors said Tuesday. “But that doesn’t change the fact that there are still more people than she can afford to lose who are not going to vote for her on the floor.”

Pelosi, after ushering Democrats to the majority for the first time in a decade, is facing the toughest threat to her 15-year reign atop the party.

Her supporters and opponents know that in running unchallenged, she’ll win Wednesday’s majority vote for her party’s nomination for the Speaker’s gavel. Victories are also assured for her top lieutenants, Reps. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse passes stopgap as spending talks stall This week: Round 2 of House impeachment inquiry hearings Lawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms MORE (D-Md.) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who are also running uncontested.

Whether Pelosi can win the 218 votes necessary to be elected Speaker on Jan. 3, when the full House will vote, is another question entirely.

Pelosi’s last challenge as party leader came in 2016, when Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanThe Hill's Campaign Report: Late bids surprise 2020 Democratic field Tim Ryan endorses Biden for president Strategists say Warren 'Medicare for All' plan could appeal to centrists MORE (D-Ohio) won 63 votes in his failed bid to topple her. Published reports have stated that Pelosi’s opponents were hoping to reach that figure again on Wednesday, even as they lack a candidate to run against her.

Multiple sources among Pelosi’s opponents, however, insisted Tuesday that they never expected to approach 63 votes on Wednesday.

“That’s not accurate,” a second Democratic aide affiliated with the Pelosi critics said. “I don’t know where that 63 number came from, but that is not the group’s expectations.”

“That is not the goal,” echoed the first aide. “We are looking to see if she gets less than 218. If she loses 18 or more votes, that will show that she doesn’t have the support needed on the floor.”

Pelosi’s allies, for their part, are already suggesting the insurgents are setting a low bar in order to manage expectations ahead of the ballot.

“The initial bar should be whether opposition to her is more than it was when Ryan ran [in 2016],” said Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaSanders doubles down on Bolivia 'coup,' few follow suit Democratic lawmaker: It 'defies logic' for Trump to push Ukraine to investigate Biden Overnight Health Care: CDC links vitamin E oil to vaping illnesses | White House calls Pelosi drug price plan 'unworkable' | Dem offers bill for state-based 'Medicare for All' MORE (D-Calif.).

When a candidate runs unopposed, Democrats typically would move to elect that person by unanimous consent or a voice vote.

But given the public resistance to Pelosi, her opponents will get an opportunity to register their dissent during the Wednesday vote.

Democratic sources said any lawmaker in the room may object to a motion to consider Pelosi’s nomination as Speaker by unanimous consent. They could then request a traditional, secret-paper ballot.

That would give Pelosi critics — including Reps.-elect Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) and Gil Cisneros (D-Calif.), who each flipped GOP-held swing seats this month — a chance to register a protest vote against Pelosi by writing in the name of someone else.

Pelosi met with incoming freshman members Tuesday afternoon in the Capitol, said a Democratic source.

“You all have idealism, integrity, and imagination to make the future better for our country.  You come as a size, in diversity, in strength, in experience and brilliance, and integrity that will make a transformative new path on this Congress and therefore in this country. ...” Pelosi told the freshmen, according to a source in the room.

“And we want to remove all doubt to how we go forward in a way that puts our best foot forward on Day 1, in order to show that we can govern. That we that we can govern in a way that is transparent and hopeful and fair.  In a way that is bipartisan, frankly," Pelosi added. "Striving for bipartisanship as much as we can and doing so in a way that unifies our country, and not divides.”

Even if there is a vote by ballot, it is unclear whether the vote totals on Wednesday will be released.

Democratic leadership aides said Tuesday there was nothing they could do to prevent lawmakers from writing in the name of an alternate candidate and blasting out a press release trumpeting that they had upheld their campaign promise and opposed Pelosi.

But these aides said they were uncertain whether those write-in votes would be thrown out or officially tallied and made public, saying this is a unique situation.

As Pelosi has won praise from former President Obama and added to her string of endorsements, there’s been speculation that opponents might choose to vote against her on Wednesday but then back her in the public January vote.

A Pelosi dissident, however, scoffed at the idea he would flip.

“I’m very consistent on that. … I love this town. I love this town. You guys are unbelievable,” an incredulous Rep.-elect Max Rose (D-N.Y.), one of at least 10 freshmen who have pledged to oppose Pelosi, told reporters as he emerged from a candidates forum on Tuesday.

The precise number of Pelosi opponents remains unclear, and it has fluctuated in recent weeks.

The insurgent group had drafted a letter earlier this month which collected  17 signatures, before losing Reps. Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to testify on Libra | Extremists find home on Telegram app | Warren blasts Facebook for not removing anti-Biden ad | California outlaws facial recognition in police body cameras | China rips US tech sanctions House Democrats introduce new legislation to combat foreign election interference Harris wins endorsement of former CBC Chairwoman Marcia Fudge MORE (D-Ohio) and 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.), who are now backing Pelosi. The detractors got a bump on Monday, however, when Cisneros endorsed the letter, bring the number of signatories back up to 16.

Other lawmakers not on the letter are also vowing to oppose Pelosi.

Rep.-elect Jared Golden (D-Maine) said Tuesday that he won’t be voting for Pelosi on Wednesday. Asked if that means he is going to write a different name down, Golden said: “I’m sure I will, but I don’t know who right now.”

Despite Pelosi’s math problem, her allies remain confident she can pull out a victory when the floor vote rolls around at the start of next year.

“She’ll beat the nonexistent candidate. She’ll get their overwhelming support of the House Democratic Caucus this week. We’ll send her name to the floor on Jan. 3, and come Jan. 3 she’ll have the votes to be Speaker,” Rep. Ted LieuTed W. LieuWyden urges FCC to secure 5G networks against cyber threats Democrat hits White House spokeswoman after Trump appointee changes testimony PETA asks DOJ to stop conducting training that harms animals MORE, a fellow California Democrat, told The Hill.

To do so, however, will take plenty of cajoling between now and then. And lawmakers on both sides of the intraparty brawl suggested it’s a debate unlike one they’ve ever seen.

“There are a lot of soulful, heart-to-heart conversations taking place among old friends in the Democratic caucus right now,” said Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinTrump attacks Pence aide who called Ukraine call 'inappropriate' Budget official says he didn't know why military aid was delayed: report Brindisi, Lamb recommended for Armed Services, Transportation Committees MORE (D-Md.). “There is a soulful and solemn aspect to what’s about to happen. That’s the mood I’m picking up on.”