Pelosi meets with freshmen Democrats key to speakership bid
Washington – Nancy Pelosi met privately Friday with several newly-elected Democrats who could be crucial to her bid for House speaker, as she works to tamp down discord and fend off a challenge from a small but persistent group determined to stop her from reclaiming the gavel.
The freshmen entering and exiting Pelosi’s stately office off the House floor indicated they were having good meetings with the leader as they prepare to join Congress as part of the largest Democratic class since Watergate. But few said the talks had changed their minds to vote to support her as speaker.
Incoming Rep.-elect Abigail Spanberger of Virginia said she had a “wonderful conversation” about her district’s priorities, but “will not be voting for leader Pelosi.”
“It isn’t about her, it’s about wanting new leadership,” said Spanberger, a former CIA operative who defeated tea party Republican Rep. Dave Brat in suburban Richmond. “There isn’t anything she could say, because the decision isn’t about her.”
Another newly-elected Democrat, Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, said he had a “pleasant” meeting with Pelosi, but remains a no on her as speaker. He is among 17 Democrats, mostly men, who have signed on to a letter opposing her. Van Drew said they discussed his districts and which committees he’d like to serve on. “I don’t feel under pressure,” he said.
Pelosi has been holding the private sessions with about two dozen lawmakers in recent days, including Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, her potential top rival for speaker, as the leader amasses endorsements from top Democrats across the nation. Pelosi says she’s confident she’ll return as the first woman in the speaker’s office.
Fudge said the two had “a very open and frank discussion” Friday, including about “the feeling in the caucus of people who are feeling left out and left behind.”
Fudge said she shared with Pelosi “the growing support that I have and why I’m considering a bid to run for speaker.”
Democrats are expected to take an internal caucus vote on the nominee for speaker when they return after Thanksgiving and Fudge said she probably would decide by then if she is running.
“To her credit, she wanted to know what my concerns were. We discussed them,” Fudge said. “What she asked me was, basically, how we could get to a point where I’m supportive.”
Pelosi has said publicly she intends to be a transitional leader, a bridge to a new generation, but some Democrats want to know more precisely what that means.
“We talked about some succession planning,” Fudge told reporters. “I think it is something our caucus is interested in knowing.”
The Democratic leader and the Ohio Democratic congresswoman met 45 minutes as lawmakers left town for the Thanksgiving recess without a resolution to the leadership struggle.
“We had a candid and respectful conversation,” Pelosi said.
If it was up to most of the Democratic Party, Pelosi would be the obvious choice to become speaker of the House in the new Congress, when Democrats have the majority. But within the ranks there’s a group pushing to topple her return as the first woman with the gavel. Some say it’s time to give younger lawmakers a chance to rise.
Pelosi, 78, made history when she became the first female speaker of the House in 2007. She assumed the post after Democrats took control of the House in midterm elections during former President George W. Bush’s second term.
She appears to be winning the outside game for a return to the speakership, amassing endorsements from a who’s who of the nation’s Democrats: former Vice President Al Gore and former Secretary of State John Kerry. Inside the Capitol she has support from influential lawmakers, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the civil rights leader, and Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who’s in line to chair the Intelligence Committee, among others, including some of the newly-elected freshmen from California.
Most recently Pelosi got the nod from MoveOn.org as a coalition of liberals sound the alarm against an overthrow being orchestrated by mostly centrist Democrats who want to prevent the San Franciscan from being the face of the party. It noted her work passing the Affordable Care Act and tweeted: “Were it not for her skilled and effective leadership, the ACA would not be law today. Dems must reject attempts to defeat her and move caucus to the right.”
The Congressional Progressive Caucus met Thursday with Pelosi and emerged pleased with her commitment to boost their ranks on key committees and provide funding for lower-level leadership offices that set policy and communications for the caucus.
The group has not yet endorsed anyone, but Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., a co-chair of the caucus, said Democrats need a leader who can hit the ground running “to deliver real results.”
The show of strength is a reflection on Pelosi’s 15-year tenure as party leader but also her place in history as the first woman to hold – and potentially return – to the speaker’s office after an election that ushered in a record number of women candidates.
It’s not lost on supporters that a group made up of mostly men is leading the effort to oust her. On the list of 17 names who’ve signed onto a letter against her, just three are women.
Pelosi’s opponents started rallying Thursday behind Fudge’s possible bid for the job, even though her potential campaign is splitting votes in the powerful Black Caucus.
Fudge, recently re-elected to a 7th term, is an ally of Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, who mounted an unsuccessful campaign against Pelosi two years ago and is a leader of the current effort to topple her.
“The country needs to come together, our caucus needs to come together,” Ryan said. “We need to heal and Marcia Fudge is one of the people who could make that happen.”
Pelosi has fended off challenges before, but this one – fueled by newcomers calling for change and frustrated incumbents who feel shut out of leadership after her many years at the helm – poses perhaps the biggest threat yet.
With a narrow Democratic majority, now at about 230 seats, she does not have much cushion to secure the 218 votes needed on the floor if all Republicans vote against her, as expected. Some House races remain undecided and the Democratic majority could grow slightly.
There is a chance the math could shift in Pelosi’s favor if lawmakers are absent or simply vote “present,” meaning she would need fewer than 218 votes for an absolute majority. The full chamber will elect the next speaker Jan. 3.
Pelosi has said she has “overwhelming support” to become the next speaker.