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Pelosi Wins Democratic Caucus Nomination for Speaker

California Democrat and her allies want the caucus to unify around her for Jan. 3 floor vote

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California won her caucus’s nomination to be speaker of the House for the 116th Congress. She still needs to win a Jan. 3 floor vote to be elected speaker. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California won her caucus’s nomination to be speaker of the House for the 116th Congress. She still needs to win a Jan. 3 floor vote to be elected speaker. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who has served 16 years as House Democratic leader, is on her way to securing another two after winning the Democratic Caucus’s nomination for speaker Wednesday. 

The outcome was never in doubt given that no one was running against Pelosi for the top leadership post and the simple-majority threshold required to win the caucus’s nomination is an easy bar to meet for the veteran vote counter. 

Pelosi got 203 votes on the caucus ballot, but her allies believe that’s far lower than what she can earn on the floor. There were 32 no votes, 3 blanks and one member was absent.

What remains uncertain is whether Pelosi will be able to unify enough members of her caucus to win the Jan. 3 speaker election on the House floor. She needs a majority of the entire House — 218 votes if all members are present and voting — to secure the gavel and currently lacks that level of public support.

The caucus temporarily changed its rules Wednesday to allow for a “no” option on the speaker ballot to help Democrats who promised during their campaigns to vote against Pelosi to fulfill that pledge. Typically the only option for voting against a candidate in an uncontested race would be to leave the ballot blank or write in someone else’s name.

The thinking among Pelosi allies is that having an actual “no” vote on the ballot — which while secret members can take pictures of and share on social media if they wish — will be enough for most members and they can then vote for Pelosi on the floor since she’ll be the caucus’s nominee.

House Democrats will have 235 members next year if they win uncalled races in New York’s 22nd District and California’s 21st District. That would mean Pelosi could lose no more than 17 votes on the floor, unless some members vote “present” or do not vote.

There are at least 20 members and incoming freshmen who’ve said they will not vote for Pelosi on the floor.

That includes 16 Democrats who’ve signed a letter saying they “are committed to voting for new leadership,” and another four who didn’t sign the letter but have made similar pledges.

Some of the Pelosi opposition leaders tried to negotiate with Pelosi just before the caucus vote on defining how long she plans to remain in leadership but the longtime leader, who has said she will not make herself a lame duck, did not bite.

“We met with Leader Pelosi and tried to engage her in a reasonable conversation about leadership transition,” New York Rep. Kathleen Rice said in a statement. “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 was successful in brokering a last-minute deal Wednesday — announced right as her nominating process began — with at least eight Democrats in the Problem Solvers Caucus on House rules changes they wanted as a condition of their support.

Pelosi told reporters after the vote closed but before a tally was announced that she was grateful for the “scores” of Democrats who’ve offered her a “vote of confidence.”

“I’ve spent a lot of time listening to members,” she said, noting her vote counting effort this year isn’t different than in her past leadership races.

The Democratic Caucus has a rule that requires its members to support the caucus nominee for speaker on the floor, but it’s never enforced. Nonetheless Pelosi and her allies are hoping members will decide to do so in the spirit of unity.

“I thank so many of you for the strong support you have given me for speaker,” Pelosi wrote in a dear colleague letter Nov. 23. “Respectful of the views of all members, I request that we all support the nominee of our caucus for speaker on the floor of the House.  Our diversity is our strength and our unity is our power.”

During the intraparty leadership elections candidates are nominated by one of their supporters and a handful of other allies second the nominations, all of whom speak to the candidates’ qualifications.

Pelosi was nominated by Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy. Reps. Kathy Castor of Florida, Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff of California, Joyce Beatty of Ohio and John Lewis of Georgia, along with Reps.-elect Angie Craig of Minnesota, Veronica Escobar of Texas and Katie Hill of California seconded. 

Correction 3:50 p.m. | An earlier version of this story misstated the number of years Nancy Pelosi has led the House Democratic Caucus. 

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