Ten Democratic incumbents or members-elect told POLITICO that they will vote against Nancy Pelosi for speaker on the House floor, exposing a serious problem for the California Democrat in her bid to reclaim the gavel.
Eight sitting lawmakers or their offices said on Thursday that they will oppose Pelosi on the floor. Two candidates who won on Tuesday previously said the same.
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That’s an issue for Pelosi, who has led the Democratic caucus for 16 years, and significantly narrows her margin for error in her bid to lock down the 218 votes needed to return to the speakership.
Pelosi’s office dismissed the notion that she wouldn’t get the votes to be speaker. And her allies note that she has two months to win skeptics and said she plans to take her fight all the way to the floor.
“Leader Pelosi is confident in her support among Members and Members-elect,” said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill. “Democrats don’t let Republicans choose their leaders. The election proved that the GOP attacks on Pelosi simply do not work.”
It’s going to be close at the very least: Without every race decided, Democrats have picked up 31 seats in the midterm elections for a total of 226, meaning Pelosi can lose eight votes on the House floor. However, Democratic leaders believe they’ll net another half-dozen seats that have yet to be formally called, meaning Pelosi could lose up to 14 members.
Meanwhile, the anti-Pelosi faction — whom some have dubbed the “revolutionaries” or the “rebels” — are working to grow their numbers. Eight of them joined an hour-long conference call Wednesday night to discuss strategy and messaging. They’ve divvied up the names of just-elected candidates who have called for “new leadership” and are reaching out to encourage them to vote against Pelosi on the floor.
These members’ pitch to incoming lawmakers is this: You’re not alone.
The Pelosi critics are arguing that they may be able to deliver as many as a dozen incumbents to vote against Pelosi on the floor, and that they could be successful in ousting her should these incoming freshmen join forces.
The eight lawmakers or offices who have confirmed to POLITICO that they intend to vote against Pelosi on the floor are Democratic Reps. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, who organized the Wednesday night call, Kathleen Rice of New York, Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, Bill Foster of Illinois, Tim Ryan of Ohio, Filemon Vela of Texas, Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Rep. Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania.
The campaigns of Reps.-Elect Abigail Spanberger and Jason Crow have told POLITICO their bosses won’t vote for her on the floor. Pelosi critics say there are more to come, but until these members publicly say so, it is unclear if they will follow through.
This list does not include two Democrats who voted against Pelosi in 2016: Reps. Jim Cooper of Tennessee and Ron Kind of Wisconsin. Neither office has returned request for comment about whether they intend to do the same again.
Pelosi has been working behind the scenes to lock down support and is already making some headway. Two lawmakers have removed their names from a letter calling for rules changes that would make it more difficult for her to become speaker. One of those, Rep. Robin Kelly, told POLITICO that she will support Pelosi on the floor.
“I do think you need an experienced person at the top to help get that together, get us organized and start off on the right foot as we get back to work for the American people,” Kelly said.
The other lawmaker who removed his name, Rep. Albio Sires of New Jersey, did not respond to a request for comment.
But Pelosi has also won over another former critic, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, who released a statement Thursday night saying he backs her: “The new Democratic majority must deliver results for the American people. I am convinced that at this critical moment, Nancy Pelosi remains the right person for the job.”
Pelosi allies are hoping to convince some of the incoming lawmakers to oppose her in a secret ballot caucus vote, where she only needs half the Democrats to win the nomination, and then vote for her on the floor. There’s also been talk of having some vote “present” or skip the vote to pad her margin.
Schrader, who was working Thursday afternoon to organize a call with the new freshman class, said these candidates would be foolish to do so and that it would open them up to political attack ads in 2020.
“If they say they’re not going to vote for Pelosi on their campaign, then they turn around and do that… I think that’d be a foolish exercise for them, and I’m just trying to advise them on the smart thing to do,” he said.
Indeed, Ryan has also been encouraging the group of rebels to frame the issue as a matter of protecting the majority: these members said on the trail that they would back new leadership or won’t back Pelosi. They’re likely to be attacked by Republicans in the future if they flip-flop.
As if on cue, the Republican National Committee on Thursday taunted Democratic winners about whether they would keep their word.
“Which House Democrats will break this critical promise to their constituents as their first official act?” read an email that listed all the Democratic candidates who called for “new leadership” or said they would not back Pelosi.
According to anti-Pelosi organizers, the lawmakers willing to vote against her have discussed putting their names on a letter saying that they will be a no on the House floor. They ultimately decided to postpone that plan and instead work to grow their numbers first.
However, the group agreed on the call Wednesday night that they would propose the rule — a requirement that the speaker nominee receive 218 votes in caucus as well as on the House floor — as early as next week: first, in a caucus meeting with current members, and then again in a separate caucus meeting with new members-elect. Currently, Pelosi only needs support from half the caucus to get the nomination
The rebels’ biggest problem is this: They don’t have someone to challenge her, and as Pelosi allies like to say, “You can’t replace someone with no one.”
Some Pelosi critics had encouraged Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York to run for speaker, but Jeffries declared Thursday for the No. 4 House post, caucus chair. Ryan, who unsuccessfully challenged Pelosi in 2016, has said he’s not currently looking to run, though he didn’t rule out doing so.
Schrader acknowledged having a challenger would help their cause since some members feel more comfortable voting for someone rather than simply voting against Pelosi. But Schrader said he understands why no one has jumped in due to the intense backlash the person may face for going up against the most powerful lawmaker in the caucus.
“That person becomes the focus of the discussion… gets beat up badly … and it gets to be pretty ugly pretty quick,” he said. “The main message is: ‘Anybody but her.’ Then, it opens up a much friendlier, better discussion about the talent we have in our caucus.”