Nancy Pelosi short on votes to be House speaker
Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday easily cleared the first hurdle on her path to reclaiming the House speakership by winning the Democrats’ nomination.
Her top two lieutenants also renewed their leases on leadership jobs in the next Congress, meaning House Democrats will likely be led by the same team that has reigned for the past dozen years, taking them to the heights of power, suffering colossal defeats and ascending once again.
The House Democratic Caucus voted 203-32 to name Mrs. Pelosi speaker-designee, showing she is well within striking distance of the 218 total Democrats she will need Jan. 3, when the whole House votes to elect the speaker, the No. 2 person in the line of presidential succession.
“Are there dissenters? Yes,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “But I expect to have a powerful vote as we go forward.”
She managed to win over a batch of converts Wednesday by striking a deal with nine Democrats in the Problem Solvers Caucus. She agreed to rules changes that would give rank-and-file members more of a say in legislative business.
Still, some 35 Democrats refused to back Mrs. Pelosi. Three left ballots blank, and 32 voted for others. One lawmaker was out sick.
Mrs. Pelosi has five weeks to cut into those numbers. Given the likely makeup of the House next year, she will be able to withstand about 16 defectors before she is in danger of losing the floor vote.
“I think it looks very good for her now,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, a New York Democrat who recently jumped onto the Pelosi bandwagon after she promised to advance parts of his legislative wish list.
A number of Democrats campaigned in their districts this year on demands for a new generation of leadership.
Instead, the top three Democrats will return in place. Mrs. Pelosi and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, who was elected majority leader Wednesday, have been the No. 1 and No. 2 House Democrats since 2002. Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, elected majority whip, has been the No. 3 Democrat since 2006.
Indeed, after they lost control of the House in 2010, Mrs. Pelosi created another leadership position to prevent any fratricide and to ensure that all three could continue to serve. They maintained that throughout the depths of Republican wins in the 2014 elections and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential triumph.
Now, they will reascend the majority together but many Democrats are still worried about the lack of change.
“There has to be some succession plan. There has to be some transition,” said Rep. Kathleen M. Rice, a key Pelosi opponent from New York.
Mrs. Pelosi has pledged to serve as a transitional leader, though she has not defined what that means and other Democrats dismissed the concept.
“We’re dealing with the Trump administration, we’re dealing with Mitch McConnell and the boys in the Senate, and we’re dealing with some of Trump’s friendly co-conspirators in the House of Representatives,” said Rep. Hakeem S. Jeffries, New York Democrat. “Why in the world would she or anyone lame-duck themselves as we are approaching some tough negotiations?”
Mr. Jeffries won the hottest contest of the day and emerged as the chair of the House Democratic Caucus. The 48-year-old lawmaker 30 years younger than the top three Democrats triumphed over 72-year-old Rep. Barbara Lee of California.
He said the caucus will be “member-driven” in the next two years and will focus on making sure they deliver on promises of infrastructure, higher-paying jobs and preserving affordable health care for sicker Americans.
Mr. Clyburn dismissed concerns about the leadership troika’s ages.
“I have always been thinking about the future,” he told reporters. “I’ve thought about that all my life, and I am still thinking about the future.”
He added, “I’m very Southern; I let my work speak for me.”
Rep. Gerald E. Connelly, Virginia Democrat, said Mr. Hoyer earned the right to the majority leader’s post, which he held from 2007 to 2011, through quiet years of “yeoman’s work” for Democrats.
“I think people remember that and appreciate that,” he said.
Those positions need only a majority vote among House Democrats.
But to win the speaker’s post the only one elected by the entire House Mrs. Pelosi will need an absolute majority of 218 members, and lawmakers said she has yet to reach that number.
“No one wants to see this civil conversation spill into a floor fight. Right now, Leader Pelosi will not have the 218 votes necessary to become speaker,” said Rep. Seth Moulton, Massachusetts Democrat.
Jeff Van Drew, an incoming Democrat from New Jersey, ruled out supporting Mrs. Pelosi and said he is considering voting “present.”
“I’ll decide how I’m going to do it, but what I am sure is I’m not voting for Mrs. Pelosi on the floor,” he said.
Rep. Max Rose, New York Democrat, said he won’t vote for Mrs. Pelosi under any circumstances.
“I find it laughable that no matter how many times I tell you this, you think that I’m going to change,” he told reporters.
“What it speaks to, though, is a culture of politics in this town, where people change their opinions,” he said. “So I’m not swaying in the wind.”