Democrats overwhelmingly nominate Pelosi as Speaker amid rebellion

Democrats voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to nominate Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiRisk-averse Republicans are failing the republic The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Dems put manufacturing sector in 2020 spotlight Trump, Saturday Night Live and why autocrats can't take a joke 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 RyanThe Hill's Morning Report - Dems contemplate big election and court reforms Hillicon Valley: Google takes heat at privacy hearing | 2020 Dems to debate 'monopoly power' | GOP rips net neutrality bill | Warren throws down gauntlet over big tech | New scrutiny for Trump over AT&T merger 2020 Dem candidates to hold debate on 'monopoly power' 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 CummingsHouse Dems renew push for government contractor back pay Cummings demands ex-Fox News reporter share information on Stormy Daniels payments The Hill's Morning Report — Trump readies first veto after latest clash with Senate GOP 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 RiceNew York Rep. Maloney endorses Gillibrand for president Hispanic Dems ask for multi-agency meeting on family separations The Hill's 12:30 Report: O'Rourke jumps into 2020 fray 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 HigginsKoch-backed group pushes for new limits on Trump's tariff authority Dems offer smaller step toward ‘Medicare for all' Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by America's 340B Hospitals — Powerful House committee turns to drug pricing | Utah governor defies voters on Medicaid expansion | Dems want answers on controversial new opioid 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 MoultonThe Hill's Morning Report - Boeing crisis a test for Trump administration We could have less than 5 years to save the North Atlantic right whale A focus on national service can unify our divided country 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 HoyerHillicon Valley: Social media faces scrutiny after New Zealand attacks | YouTube removed 'tens of thousands' of shooting videos | DHS chief warns of state-backed cyber threats | House Dems plan April vote on net neutrality House to take up gender pay gap, Violence Against Women Act House Dems plan April vote on net neutrality bill 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 JeffriesBipartisan think tank to honor lawmakers who offer 'a positive tenor' GOP leader needles Dems on anti-Semitism resolution Dems under fire put brakes on Omar resolution MORE (D-N.Y.) defeated Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeHarris receives endorsement from 6 home-state mayors Dems put spotlight on diversity in tech Hillicon Valley: T-Mobile, Sprint racked up Trump hotel bills | Progressives find fresh target in telecom merger | Lawmakers divided over state privacy rules | FCC warns of future probe into Sinclair allegations 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 KennedyOvernight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Dems push Pelosi on bill allowing federal funding of abortion | Key Republican says Dems left him out of drug pricing talks | Court upholds Ohio law to defund Planned Parenthood | Trump taps acting FDA chief Joe Kennedy introduces resolution rejecting Trump’s transgender military ban Warren launches White House bid with call for 'structural change' 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 SchiffDems request probe into spa owner suspected of trying to sell access to Trump Dems fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons The Hill's Morning Report — Trump readies first veto after latest clash with Senate GOP MORE (Calif.) and John LewisJohn Lewis Civil rights icon John Lewis after New Zealand mosque attacks: 'We cannot sow seeds of hatred' Why are Trump and Congress avoiding comprehensive immigration reform? Together, we carry on the age-old struggle for justice for all MORE (Ga.), as well as Reps.-elect Angie Craig (Minn.) and Veronica EscobarVeronica EscobarOn The Money: Trump issues first veto, warning of 'reckless' resolution | US hits Russia with new sanctions | Dems renew push for contractor back pay | Lawmakers seek probe into undocumented workers at Trump businesses Hispanic Caucus demands probe into Trump Organization hiring undocumented workers O'Rourke nabs 2020 endorsement from his successor in Congress 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.