Democrats overwhelmingly nominate Pelosi as Speaker amid rebellion

Democrats voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to nominate Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments 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 Ryan2020 Democrat: Harriet Tubman will be on 'within the first year of my presidency' 2020 Democrat: Harriet Tubman will be on 'within the first year of my presidency' Democratic presidential hopefuls react to debate placement 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 Democrats question DHS over using facial recognition tech on US citizens House Democrats question DHS over using facial recognition tech on US citizens Democrats lash out at Trump's bombshell remarks 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 RiceDemocrat offers measure to prevent lawmakers from sleeping in their offices Democrat offers measure to prevent lawmakers from sleeping in their offices Hillicon Valley: Pelosi blasts Facebook for not taking down doctored video | Democrats push election security after Mueller warning | Critics dismiss FCC report on broadband access | Uber to ban passengers with low ratings 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 HigginsHas Congress lost the ability or the will to pass a unanimous bipartisan small business bill? Democratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer Democratic senators unveil 'Medicare X' bill to expand coverage 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 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Biden, Sanders to share stage at first DNC debate The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Biden, Sanders to share stage at first DNC debate Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg to debate; Warren on separate night 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 HoyerThe case for congressional pay raises Approve USMCA before it's too late Lawmakers push to permanently ban automatic pay raises for members of Congress 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 JeffriesDems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE (D-N.Y.) defeated Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeDems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Democrats set stage for next shutdown fight with wall-free spending bill 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 Defense: Transgender troops rally as ban nears | Trump may call more troops to border | National Guard expects 3M training shortfall from border deployment | Pentagon to find housing for 5,000 migrant children Transgender troops rally as Pentagon prepares to implement ban The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition — Trump rallies for second term on 'promises kept' 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 SchiffSchiff blasts DOJ over memo on withholding Trump tax returns Schiff blasts DOJ over memo on withholding Trump tax returns Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data MORE (Calif.) and John LewisJohn LewisFirst major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides First major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides 2020 Democrats mark three years since Pulse nightclub shooting MORE (Ga.), as well as Reps.-elect Angie Craig (Minn.) and Veronica EscobarVeronica EscobarWho are the House Democrats backing Trump impeachment? Who are the House Democrats backing Trump impeachment? Democrats fail to mollify impeachment crowd 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.