The small group of Democrats working to block Nancy Pelosi from becoming House speaker next year insists its ranks are growing.
But a week after the effort began, the anti-Pelosi forces still don’t have a candidate to run against Pelosi, and still haven’t made public their list of members and incoming members committed to voting against the longtime Democratic leader.
“We have a significant number of votes,” Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan said after the Democrats’ Wednesday morning conference meeting. “We’re going to bring about change. The people want change, and this is the establishment versus change.”
But as Ryan, Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and other anti-Pelosi Democrats argue for change, Pelosi and her allies point to the record number of women who led their party back to the majority, as well as Pelosi’s long track record as the caucus’s leader.
“We won the House majority because of women candidates and with huge women turnout,” said California Rep. Ro Khanna. “To then deny the first woman speaker who led us to that victory the gavel would be a slap in the face to the voters who sent us here.”
“She has a background that is steeped in legislative experience. She has a spine of steel. She knows how to build consensus,” said Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Pelosi’s longtime friend.
DeLauro cited two key moments: the 2008 financial crisis and the 2009 push to pass Obamacare. “I sat at the table when [Treasury Secretary Henry] Paulson and [Federal Reserve Chairman Ben] Bernanke told us we were going over the financial cliff,” DeLauro said. “The person who made it possible for us to move to an economic recovery program in this country and start that ball rolling was Nancy Pelosi.”
Pelosi has repeatedly said she’s confident she’ll retake the Speaker’s gavel in January. “Pelosi has been clear she’s taking this to the floor,” a senior Democratic aide told NPR. “She just elected the most diverse House of Representatives in history and she’s not going to be deterred by five white guys.” (Several women are opposing Pelosi, in addition to Moulton and Ryan.)
The House Democratic Caucus has scheduled the vote for speaker and other top leadership posts for the end of this month. Pelosi is expected to win that contest when she just needs a majority of the House Democrats. Her opponents are targeting the floor vote in January when she would need a majority of all 435 House members — 218 votes – to be confirmed as speaker.
One thing working in Pelosi’s favor: the fact that Democrats’ majority keeps growing. The Associated Press called New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District for Democrat Andy Kim on Tuesday, giving the party a 34-seat pickup, with more seats likely on the way. It’s now the largest single-year Democratic gain since the wake of the Watergate scandal.
The more Democrats there are to vote for a speaker, the more votes Pelosi can afford to lose, and the less leverage the anti-Pelosi forces have to block her path to victory.
Still, many incoming Democrats remained cool – at least publically – to backing Pelosi as they arrived in Washington for orientation this week. “I think it’s one of those scenarios that is a little bit challenging,” Rep.-elect Kendra Horn of Oklahoma said. “I’ve said for a long time that I think we need new leadership on a lot of levels, and I’m going to make my decision about who to vote for Speaker based on what’s in the best interest of Oklahoma.”
One enthusiastic Pelosi supporter: incoming Florida Rep. Donna Shalala, who served as President Bill Clinton’s Health and Human Services Secretary. “She’s a skilled leader,” Shalala said. “She can manage the caucus, which is complicated. And frankly, she’s responsible for passing Obamacare.”
The Democrats mobilizing to block Pelosi had said they intended to release a letter listing all the firm “no” votes at some point this week, but Ryan said that timeline is now up in the air.
Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge predicted it will become clear whether or not Pelosi has the votes she needs “within the next week or so.”
“We have a lot of very bright people in this caucus and everybody knows it,” Fudge said. “But it’s very difficult to move up in an environment where the same people run every time.”