Pelosi to make history with second Speakership

Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Ginsburg successor must uphold commitment to 'equality, opportunity and justice for all' Bipartisan praise pours in after Ginsburg's death Pelosi orders Capitol flags at half-staff to honor Ginsburg MORE is about to make history. Again.

The California Democrat broke new ground in 2007 when she became the first woman ever to ascend to the House Speakership. On Thursday, twelve years later, she’s poised to take the gavel once more, following a midterm wave that will give Democrats control of the lower chamber for the first time in nearly a decade.


The power shift at once distinguishes Pelosi as the most potent Democrat in the country, puts her in the driver’s seat of the Democrats’ delicate effort to be a check on President TrumpDonald John TrumpObama calls on Senate not to fill Ginsburg's vacancy until after election Planned Parenthood: 'The fate of our rights' depends on Ginsburg replacement Progressive group to spend M in ad campaign on Supreme Court vacancy MORE and his administration and makes her the face of the party heading into the crucial 2020 election cycle — at least until a Democratic presidential nominee emerges.

The feat of taking the gavel in nonconsecutive Congresses also secures Pelosi a place in the record books, alongside such historic figures as Reps. Henry Clay and Sam Rayburn (D-Texas), who was the last to do so, more than 60 years ago.

Yet the political and cultural climate in 2019 is vastly different, in some respects, than it was when Pelosi took the gavel last, posing new challenges to the 78-year-old lawmaker who’s led the Democrats since 2003.

The most stark obstacles will come from Republicans — both a GOP-controlled Senate that will almost certainly block the Democrats’ most ambitious legislative plans, and a mercurial president whose first inclination is to appease the conservative base that propelled him into office.

Yet Pelosi will also face the challenge of uniting a diverse and divisive Democratic Caucus, one that runs an ideological spectrum between a small but growing contingent of Blue Dog moderates, who are urging bipartisanship, and a large and energized group of liberal lawmakers determined to punch back against Trump.

Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), who is retiring this week after 36 years in Congress, said Pelosi’s return to the Speakership is “a reflection of her immense skills and dedication.” But the landscape she’ll have to navigate, he noted, won’t look like that of 2007.

“There are two major differences: A president who makes it so difficult to work with, and a [freshman] class with very new energy,” Levin told The Hill Wednesday. 

“This is an unusually energetic activist class.”

The activism of some of the newcomers was on display on Wednesday, when Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezLawmakers fear voter backlash over failure to reach COVID-19 relief deal Why Democrats must confront extreme left wing incitement to violence The Hill Interview: Jerry Brown on climate disasters, COVID-19 and Biden's 'Rooseveltian moment' MORE (D-N.Y.), a liberal icon who toppled Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) in last year’s Democratic primary, announced her opposition to an overhaul of House rules that stands as the first step of Pelosi’s House takeover.

Along with Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaThe Hill Interview: Jerry Brown on climate disasters, COVID-19 and Biden's 'Rooseveltian moment' Congress needs to prioritize government digital service delivery DeJoy defends Postal Service changes at combative House hearing MORE (D-Calif.), Ocasio-Cortez is opposed to a so-called pay-go provision of the rules package that’s designed to rein in deficit spending — a provision she characterized as “a dark political maneuver designed to hamstring progress on healthcare+other leg.”

Levin predicted that the energy of the incoming Democrats will be a boon to the party, comparing the class to that of 1974, post-Watergate, and 1982, when he was first elected. 

“This Caucus these last years has really been both progressive and realistic,” he said. “And that will be accentuated by the people coming in, both realistic and activist.”

Yet some Republicans are already comparing the Democrats’ enormous incoming class to the conservative Tea Party wave that ushered in a Republican majority of 2010. That election brought a number of unconventional lawmakers to Washington, many of whom attacked GOP leaders from the right flank and led directly to the resignation of former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLongtime House parliamentarian to step down Five things we learned from this year's primaries Bad blood between Pelosi, Meadows complicates coronavirus talks MORE (R-Ohio) in 2015.

“[It] will create a similar dynamic, to the incoming Speaker, that the Tea Party movement and the House Freedom Caucus has meant to the Republican administration,” said Rep. Steve WomackStephen (Steve) Allen WomackEx-CBO director calls for more than trillion in coronavirus stimulus spending Overnight Defense: Lawmakers tear into Pentagon over .8B for border wall | Dems offer bill to reverse Trump on wall funding | Senators urge UN to restore Iran sanctions Lawmakers trade insults over Trump budget cuts MORE (R-Ark.), the soon-to-be ranking member of the House Budget Committee.


Womack, who was elected as part of the 2010 class, warned the Democratic freshmen that they won’t change Congress in the ways they might hope.

“The realization is never going to be as great as the anticipation or the expectation of the new member,” Womack said. 

Still, he said the group will pose headaches for Pelosi and her leadership team as they try to unite the Caucus against Trump’s agenda.  

“That movement within the Democrat Party will challenge anyone’s leadership,” he said. 

It’s not the first time Pelosi will have faced challenges in uniting the caucus. As Speaker roughly a decade ago, she was able to pass sweeping legislation through the House — including ObamaCare, a climate change bill and a Wall Street reform package — despite opposition from moderate Democrats. 

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), a leader of the Blue Dogs, praised Pelosi this week, saying she’s uniquely suited to bring together the various factions of the party. 

“We are going to have some progressives that are going to come in with their own thoughts and ways of doing things,” Cuellar said Wednesday, as he roamed the halls of the Capitol. “But if there’s anybody that has been able to balance that it’s been Pelosi.”

Cuellar also warned, however, that a Democratic shift too far to the left would alienate moderate voters and risk the party’s newly won majority.

“In my district, you’ve got hunting that’s very important; oil and gas is very important — a lot of jobs; trade is very important,” he said. “And we’ve just got to make sure that we don’t try to purify members because they don’t fit into the profile of a more urban area.”

"There will be a lot of members, like myself, [whose] first vote is for Pelosi, and after that we vote our districts. ”

A moment later Pelosi walked past, as if on cue. She greeted Cuellar with a hug.  

Another major difference accompanying Pelosi’s Speakership rise this year is the simple fact that she doesn’t have the backing of her entire Caucus. In 2007, she won the seat unanimously; after the 2018 elections, she faced the toughest challenge to her leadership spot in the 15 years she’s been there. 

Yet Pelosi will likely be able to corral the needed support to secure the Speaker’s gavel when the House votes Thursday afternoon. And some of her initial critics say they’ve buried the hatchet as the Democrats shift gears to focus on their legislative priorities and the 2020 elections. 

“I clearly had some opinions that I expressed numerous times publicly,” Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanMourners gather outside Supreme Court after passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lincoln Project hits Trump for criticizing Goodyear, 'an American company' Biden defends Goodyear after Trump urges boycott MORE (D-Ohio), who two years ago challenged Pelosi for her leadership position, told Hugh Hewitt this week. “But you know, at some point, you’ve got to start governing the country.”