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Democrats overwhelmingly nominate Pelosi as Speaker amid rebellion

Democrats voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to nominate Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDisputed North Carolina race raises prospect of congressional probe The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — The political currents that will drive the shutdown showdown Kobach ‘very concerned’ voter fraud may have happened in North Carolina MORE (D-Calif.) as the next Speaker, underlining her strength within the caucus as she strides toward a tougher public contest in January.
The tally in the secret-ballot vote was 203-32, with three lawmakers leaving the ballot blank. One Pelosi supporter, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), was absent as he seeks treatment for an illness in New York.

The 32 votes against Pelosi, the current minority leader, would be enough to prevent her from winning the Speaker’s gavel in a Jan. 3 floor vote, which requires support from a majority of the full House.

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With Republicans opposed to Pelosi, she could only afford to lose 17 Democratic votes and reach the magic 218 number.

Yet the Wednesday vote mostly pointed to Pelosi’s muscle and vote-counting skills and leaves her with weeks to pick off opponents or to convince them to vote present on Jan. 3, which would lower the number of total votes needed to win the Speakership.

While Pelosi was running uncontested on Wednesday, it was notable that the votes cast against her were well below the 63 votes won by 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) in his 2016 challenge to the longtime Democratic leader. It underscored the fact that she is running after an election that swept Democrats to power, rather than one where the party lost seats.

In remarks after her victory, Pelosi largely dismissed opposition to her rule, saying “we’re in pretty good shape” for the January vote.

She focused her attention on the fact that Democrats will once again be in power in the House in January. And she pledged to unify a caucus that includes progressives and more centrist lawmakers who won swing districts in the November midterm elections, saying “unity is our power, and we will use that power again in a unifying way for our country.”

Pelosi’s allies rallied to her side, predicting the California Democrat will find a way to narrow the gap and take the gavel she lost in 2011.

“I guarantee you, Nancy Pelosi will have the votes,” said Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsBlack Caucus chairman pushes back against committee term limits Cummings: Kemp should testify about voter suppression allegations Dems say Whitaker will appear before House panel in January MORE (D-Md.). “I don’t have any doubt about that.”

But the lawmakers opposed to Pelosi were defiant and vowed to continue their efforts to unseat her.

“I believe we need new leadership to put the partisan gridlock behind us, and I promised my constituents I would vote for new leadership,” said Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.). “That’s what I did today, and what I’ll do on the floor.”

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What’s less clear is whether lawmakers who voted against Pelosi in Wednesday’s secret ballot — in many cases with a green light from Pelosi herself — will be willing to do so with the cameras rolling on the House floor and plenty of pressure to back the California lawmaker.

“These things are not easy,” 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.), a leader of the insurgent group, said following the vote. “These are not easy positions to be in, but we have to have these conversations.”

Sixteen Democrats signed an anti-Pelosi letter last week calling for new leadership, though one member — Rep. Brian HigginsBrian HigginsNancy Pelosi's incredible comeback WHIP LIST: Pelosi seeks path to 218 Overnight Health Care: Trump officials allow states to loosen ObamaCare coverage requirements | GOP lawmakers air concerns with Trump drug price plan | Dem single-payer fight shifting to battle over Medicare 'buy-in' | US life expectancy falls MORE (D-N.Y.) — later reversed himself after getting an accommodation from Pelosi. Rep.-elect Gil Cisneros (D-Calif.) signed the letter this week.

A number of other elected Democrats who have not committed to Pelosi did not sign the letter, raising questions of how far they will be willing to take their opposition.

On Monday, Rep. Seth MoultonSeth Wilbur MoultonWHIP LIST: Pelosi seeks path to 218 Moulton calls out Ocasio-Cortez's tweet defending Pelosi as 'offensive' The Hill's Morning Report — Intraparty skirmishes light up lame-duck session MORE (D-Mass.), a leader of the lawmakers pushing for new leadership, told The Washington Post that the debate had become too focused on Pelosi and suggested negotiations that could lead to changes to the rest of the Democratic leadership team.

Moulton’s comments were directed at Reps. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDisputed North Carolina race raises prospect of congressional probe Kobach ‘very concerned’ voter fraud may have happened in North Carolina Dem McCready withdraws concession as election fraud claims hit North Carolina race MORE (D-Md.) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who along with Pelosi have been in power since before Democrats last won the House.

Both won their elections on Wednesday and will remain the No. 2 and No. 3 Democrat in the caucus next year. Rep. Ben Ray Lújan (D-N.M.) will be the fourth-ranking member. Along with Pelosi, the three ran unopposed. 

In another race, Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesCriminal justice reform splits 2020 Democrats Second woman says she was paid to collect absentee ballots in North Carolina House race Hakeem Jeffries on GOP operatives in NC fraud probe: 'Lock them up' MORE (D-N.Y.) defeated Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeBlack Caucus chairman pushes back against committee term limits Progressive rep says she’s ‘very disappointed' by Barbara Lee’s loss in bid for Dem caucus chair House Dems worry about lack of women of color in leadership MORE (D-Calif.) for the position of Democratic Caucus chair in a 123-113 vote.

The Speaker vote on Wednesday was a departure from norms, reflecting the unusual nature of this year’s leadership elections.

Typically, a candidate running unchallenged would be elected by unanimous consent. This year, however, the clamor for casting a protest vote — particularly from incoming freshmen who had promised voters to oppose Pelosi — was loud enough that party leaders offered paper ballots with a simple “yes/no” option on the question of whether Pelosi should be Speaker.

Pelosi before the vote made it clear she was fine with members voting against her, hoping it would liberate them to vote present in the Jan. 3 floor vote, according to a Democratic lawmaker familiar with the discussions.

“Pelosi has released some members to vote ‘no’ in caucus and then vote present on the House floor,” the lawmaker said Wednesday morning, before the voting began.

Rice said that rebel members met with Pelosi before the vote in an effort “to engage her in a reasonable conversation about leadership transition,” but were rejected.

“Unfortunately, our concerns were dismissed outright,” she said in a statement.

Moulton, who was also in the meeting with Pelosi, said he was disappointed that no agreement was reached and is hopeful she “will invite us back to the table to plan for the future success of the Democratic Party.”

Lawmakers cast their ballots just after a deal was announced between Pelosi and the Problem Solvers Caucus on changes to rules aimed at empowering rank-and-file lawmakers and breaking partisan gridlock.

Nine Democrats in the bipartisan, 48-member caucus had vowed to withhold their support for Pelosi — or any other Speaker nominee — unless the candidate commits, in writing, to the changes.

In the closed-door meeting, Pelosi was officially nominated by Rep. Joe KennedyJoseph (Joe) Patrick KennedySenate Republicans urgently need to embrace criminal justice reform Overnight Health Care: Senators urge vote on delaying health insurance tax | Joe Kennedy III 'hopeful' he can back 'Medicare for all' bill | Latest Ebola outbreak becomes world's 2nd-worst Joe Kennedy III 'hopeful' he can support revised 'Medicare for all' bill next year MORE III (D-Mass.). A number of other Democrats then addressed the caucus to voice their support for the longtime leader, a list that included Reps. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSunday shows preview: Trade talks, Cohen sentencing memo take center stage Hillicon Valley: Huawei executive facing possible US fraud charges | Dem blames White House for failure of election security bill | FCC investigating wireless carriers over coverage data | Assange rejects deal to leave embassy Dem lawmaker: Trump Jr. lied to Congress on two occasions MORE (Calif.) and John LewisJohn LewisMerkel named Harvard commencement speaker Dems vow quick action to bolster voting rights upon taking power Dems demand info on law enforcement's use of Amazon facial recognition tool MORE (Ga.), as well as Reps.-elect Angie Craig (Minn.) and Veronica EscobarVeronica EscobarDems vow quick action to bolster voting rights upon taking power Democrats overwhelmingly nominate Pelosi as Speaker amid rebellion Hispanic Caucus sets red lines on DHS spending bill MORE (Texas).

Higgins said it was positive for Democrats to have a public debate about what direction their party should go — and who should lead it.

“Democracy is a sloppy mess. ... There are a lot of differing views, even within the Democratic Caucus. The ability to pull that together is not clean and efficient all the time, and everyone has laid on the table what they are looking for,” Higgins told reporters. “Everyone here, 435 members in the House, has one legislative tool, and that is their vote.”

-- Updated at 10:45 p.m.