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Confidence Abounds Among Pelosi Supporters and Opponents — But One Side Will Lose

Anti-Pelosi contingent claims they have numbers to block Pelosi from becoming speaker

Nancy Pelosi is confident she will be the next speaker. Her opponents are confident they can block that. Someone is going to lose. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Nancy Pelosi is confident she will be the next speaker. Her opponents are confident they can block that. Someone is going to lose. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Two big questions surround the contingent of House Democrats opposing Nancy Pelosi’s bid for speaker: Are they bluffing when they say there are enough members prepared to vote against the California Democrat on the floor? And if they’re not, will that opposition hold until the Jan. 3 vote?

Leaders of the contingent, including Reps. Tim Ryan of Ohio, Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, Filemon Vela of Texas and Kurt Schrader of Oregon, have all said they’re confident that when the 116th Congress begins on the third day of January, there will be more than enough Democrats ready to vote against Pelosi on the floor — not “present” or abstaining from voting — to prevent her from claiming the speaker’s gavel.

Pelosi has countered their assertions with her own confidence.

“I will be speaker of the House, no matter what he says,” she told reporters Wednesday morning when specifically asked about Moulton saying he was “100 percent confident” his group has enough commitments to block Pelosi in the floor vote.

Watch: Democrats Divided on Pelosi as Speaker After First Post-Election Caucus Meeting

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Several Democrats supporting Pelosi have also predicted she’ll get the votes needed to be elected speaker on the floor.

One side ultimately has to lose. Maybe there’s some bluffing going on, or maybe everyone is just getting over their skis. The floor vote for speaker is still seven weeks away.

While it’s clear Pelosi hasn’t yet locked down the 218 votes she’ll need on the floor — unless some members don’t vote or record as “present,” thus lowering the majority threshold — it’s still believable that she can.

The first test is coming soon, as the anti-Pelosi contingent promises to release a letter demonstrating their level of opposition in advance of the Democratic Caucus’ leadership elections on Nov. 28.

Ryan said the number is somewhere in the mid-20s but a few of those new and returning members who plan to vote against Pelosi on the floor are not expected to sign the letter.

Neither Ryan nor the other leaders of the Pelosi opposition bloc would reveal exactly how many signatures they have gathered, but they all noted they are still working on getting more.

Their goal is for the letter to push Pelosi to step aside, but that seems unlikely. If she doesn’t, they hope the opposition will provide cover for potential leaders who want to mount a direct challenge to Pelosi but are currently afraid to do so.

Ryan, Vela and Moulton have all said they’d prefer another woman step up to the challenge.

Names they’ve floated include Ohio Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, one of the anti-Pelosi members, Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos and California Reps. Karen Bass or Linda T. Sánchez.

“People are asking me to do it, and I am thinking about it,” Fudge told

Math problems

The opposition group insists Pelosi’s plan to convince some of her critics not to participate in the speaker vote or to vote “present” won’t work.

At least eight incoming Democrats (including Rep. Conor Lamb, who was elected to a new district last week) have said they will vote against Pelosi on the floor. One of those members-elect, Virginia’s Abigail Spanberger, told Roll Call she will not sign on to the letter.

There seems to be a somewhat larger number of returning members prepared to vote against Pelosi on the floor as well — at least 10, but likely somewhere north of that.

That’s a problem, because to get to 218, Pelosi can afford to lose only somewhere between 11 to 19 votes — depending on how many of the eight races that still remain uncalled ultimately fall in Democrats’ favor.

But in the caucus vote, Pelosi needs to win only a simple majority of House Democrats’ support, a threshold not even her opponents question she can reach.

Pelosi won a minor battle in the larger speaker war Wednesday, as her opposition seemingly has dropped a proposal to raise the caucus threshold for nominating a speaker to 218.

Perlmutter had pushed for that caucus rule change in September. But on Wednesday, as the caucus held its first meeting with members-elect to discuss the 116th Congress, Perlmutter didn’t bring up the 218-vote threshold, according to multiple members and aides present.

Rather, Perlmutter briefly discussed the other half of his initial proposal, ending a rule that binds members to vote for the caucus’s nominee for speaker. He did not offer an amendment or a motion to bring the proposal up for a vote.

‘We just want to move on’

Several Democrats have questioned the point of changing the rule, since it’s never been enforced and there’s no mechanism by which it could be. Even the incoming freshmen have caught on, with California’s Katie Hill, who beat Republican Rep. Steve Knight, standing up during the caucus meeting to ask what the purpose of the proposal was.

“The answer was that it’s internal party strife,” she told reporters after the meeting. “So I said as a member of the freshman class, a) I wanted clarification because we don’t know what is happening, right? And b) I would love to reiterate that we just want to move on.”

Asked what she meant by move on, Hill said, “We have to hit the ground running Day One. We have to get things going. The more that the media focuses on, or the more that anyone focuses on internal party dynamics, the less productive it is. As far as I’m concerned, they tried to run these campaigns against every single one of us as far as comparing us to Nancy Pelosi, and it didn’t work.”

Hill, who hadn’t previously specified whether she’d vote for Pelosi, said that she will.

“I’m from California, I’m a Democrat, I’m a woman. I’m going to end up voting for her,” she said.

Hill is among at least a dozen new members who have said they will vote for Pelosi, but the positions of another three dozen remain unclear.

Some incoming members also seem to be walking back statements they made on the campaign trail.

“I would not vote for Nancy Pelosi,” Connecticut’s Jahana Hayes said during her final primary debate in August.

When Roll Call asked her Wednesday if her opposition to Pelosi would extend to the floor vote, Hayes said, “Actually, what I said is I would get all the information before I make any decisions. I think that’s what voters sent me here to do.”

Problems with the Problem Solvers?

Another notable group factoring into Pelosi’s math problem is the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.

Nine Democratic members of the group, led by co-chairman Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, have said they will not vote for any candidate for speaker who does not back changes to House rules designed to promote bipartisan legislating. The Problem Solvers have their own package of proposed changes, called Break the Gridlock, but they’ve said they’re open to other changes that would address their overarching goal.

Those Problem Solver Democrats want Pelosi to provide a commitment in writing to such rules changes. They met with her and incoming House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts on Wednesday and made progress toward that end.

Pelosi issued a statement after the meeting saying the Problem Solvers had offered “valuable solutions to restore the House of Representatives as the great marketplace of ideas our Founders intended.”

Gottheimer said the discussion was productive — they walked through their proposals one by one and Pelosi expressed some concerns and provided feedback — but he noted that Pelosi’s statement was not enough of a commitment.

“We remain eager to see the specifics of the substantive rules changes Leader Pelosi and ranking member McGovern will support in the caucus and on the House floor,” he said, noting Pelosi said she will provide substantive language on what rules she’s willing to change.

If the Problem Solver Democrats are able to secure acceptable rules changes from Pelosi, some of the Republican members of the group have signaled they too could vote for her for speaker on the floor.

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report. 

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