WASHINGTON ― Despite a group of Democrats vowing to block her, Nancy Pelosi cruised through an internal House Democratic Caucus vote Wednesday to effectively secure the nomination of her party to return as speaker.
Pelosi won the caucus vote 203-32, with three blank ballots and one absence, in an uncontested race. (A total of 239 votes were cast because Democrats allowed ballots from delegates, who won’t get to participate in the House floor vote.)
The Democratic leader came away with a slightly stronger vote than expected, but, as the 32 votes against Pelosi indicate, her work isn’t done.
Pelosi will face a floor vote on Jan. 3, when she must get a majority of the whole House, 218 votes. With Democrats expected to have 235 members, that means Pelosi could lose only 17 Democrats and still be elected speaker ― if every Republican votes against her and none of the Democrats currently opposing her vote “present.” (A “present” vote would, in effect, be a half-vote for Pelosi, as it would lower the majority threshold.)
Pelosi’s Democratic detractors promise they won’t vote for her on the floor, and with 16 Democrats currently signed onto a letter making that promise, on top of about a half-dozen freshman Democrats who ran for Congress by vowing to not support Pelosi and continuing to say they’ll uphold their promise, Pelosi still has a vote problem ― albeit one that she potentially has ways out of.
The anti-Pelosi group has been in a scramble lately as it tries to tamp down members in the group from defecting. Already Pelosi has flipped two members who had signed the letter pledging to not support her ― Marcia Fudge (Ohio) and Brian Higgins (N.Y.) ― as well as dozens of incoming freshmen who were shaky during the campaign on whether they’d support Pelosi.
Pelosi has also gotten some iffy signs from Stephen Lynch (Mass.) on whether he’d support her to be speaker, and she won over Albio Sires (N.J.) and Robin Kelly (Ill.), who had signed an earlier letter with Pelosi detractors pushing to delay leadership elections.
But Pelosi still faces hard opposition from about 20 Democrats ― with other Democrats signaling on Wednesday that she isn’t their first choice for speaker.
The votes against Pelosi might not mean much, though. Pelosi’s team actually pushed some freshman Democrats who said they wouldn’t support her to vote against Pelosi in the caucus election ― that way they could tell their constituents they had upheld their word to oppose Pelosi.
There was even word that some Democrats would tweet pictures of their ballot from the closed-door caucus election. While such tactics look like a slap in Pelosi’s face, the idea may have originated from some of Pelosi’s allies, as there was some talk of recording each member’s vote in an effort to allow freshman Democrats who ran on a pledge to not support Pelosi to show they upheld their pledge ― in some way.
What matters to Pelosi much more than Wednesday’s caucus vote is the floor vote in January, when Republicans will also get a say over the speaker. Pelosi’s win in caucus has never been in doubt, but with more than 20 Democrats continuing to say they won’t support her on the floor, Pelosi still has a problem.
That doesn’t mean she won’t become speaker. She’s the heavy favorite to do so. But she may have to make some more promises to flip individual members, or vow that this will be her last term in order to flip a large chunk.
Already the group of Pelosi detractors looks eager to make a deal. Leaders of the group ― Reps. Tim Ryan (Ohio), Seth Moulton (Mass.) and Kathleen Rice (N.Y.) ― met privately with Pelosi on Wednesday afternoon, and there’s some talk that a key number of the anti-Pelosi Democrats would support her if she promised to make this her last term.
“Moments ago we met with Leader Pelosi and tried to engage her in a reasonable conversation about leadership transition,” Rice said after Wednesday’s meeting. “Unfortunately, our concerns were dismissed outright. We remain united behind our goal of new leadership and intend to vote against Leader Pelosi in Caucus and on the Floor of the House.”
Pelosi doesn’t look eager to make another deal, particularly if she doesn’t have to. She already made a deal with the so-called Problem Solvers Caucus ― a bipartisan group of lawmakers who wanted specific rules changes to open up Congress ― even though that group had already vowed to not support Pelosi if she didn’t agree to their rule changes, in writing, by a deadline of nearly two weeks ago.
Alternately, Pelosi could promise nothing to her remaining detractors, dare these Democrats to vote against her and see if they can withstand the pressure.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.