House

Democrats overwhelmingly nominate Pelosi as Speaker amid rebellion

Greg Nash

Democrats voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to nominate Rep. Nancy Pelosi (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.

{mosads}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 Ryan (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 Cummings (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.”

{mossecondads}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 Rice (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 Higgins (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 Moulton (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 Hoyer (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 Jeffries (D-N.Y.) defeated Rep. Barbara Lee (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 Kennedy 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 Schiff (Calif.) and John Lewis (Ga.), as well as Reps.-elect Angie Craig (Minn.) and Veronica Escobar (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.

Tags Adam Schiff Barbara Lee Brian Higgins Elijah Cummings Hakeem Jeffries Joe Kennedy John Lewis Kathleen Rice Nancy Pelosi Seth Moulton Steny Hoyer Tim Ryan Veronica Escobar

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