Some Mich. Democrats remain uncommitted on Pelosi for speaker

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Nancy Pelosi faces a vote Wednesday on whether she will be the nominee for Speaker of the House, but three congresswomen-elect from Michigan have called for new leadership.

Washington — The four incoming freshman Democrats from Michigan could help decide whether California's Nancy Pelosi becomes Speaker of the House again, though some have not declared their intentions. 

Michigan's Democratic incumbents say they would vote for Pelosi on the House floor if she's the nominee of the caucus, but three congresswomen-elect have called for new leadership, including Elissa Slotkin of Holly, who says she won't vote for her. 

Rep.-elect Haley Stevens of Rochester Hills hasn't said "no" to Pelosi but also hasn't publicly committed to "yes." 

Rep.-elect Rashida Tlaib of Detroit hasn't endorsed Pelosi but also hasn't ruled out voting for her on the floor.

Rep.-Elect Andy Levin of Bloomfield Township said Tuesday he backs Pelosi, calling her "the strongest leader to unite our caucus." 

House Democrats are set to huddle Wednesday for caucus votes for leadership. 

Pelosi's office has rejected the suggestion that she won't have the 218 votes needed to be speaker when the floor vote election occurs Jan. 3.  But she can't afford to lose many more supporters after 15 Democrats signed a letter saying they oppose her. 

Slotkin drafted a letter that's circulating among the Democratic freshman class urging Pelosi to give them influential committee assignments, two seats on Democrats' messaging committee, and more input on priorities by meeting with leadership monthly.

"The voters have asked for our voices to be heard, and to do that, this class must be a driving force in drafting legislation with such far-reaching economic implications for the country," the letter says. 

Slotkin's letter doesn't mention any change in leadership. But she made clear on the campaign trail and since her election that "I will not be supporting Leader Pelosi," as she told a Washington crowd at a recent Defense One event. 

"I’ve said it many, many times: I never want to be disrespectful to anyone who has served, especially a woman who’s broken glass ceilings. But you gotta do what your district is calling for, and in this case, for me — both sides of the aisle — people just feel the need for a new generation of leadership," Slotkin said. 

"There’s a lot of churn going on right now in the Congress. Who knows who’s going to emerge from that churn. But I’m going to look at the other contenders and make the decision that’s right for my constituents."

Slotkin said Congress could use more Midwesterners in leadership because there's a perception that "we’re the party of the elite, and the coastal elite at that."

Asked if she would vote "present" on the floor in January, Slotkin said she's still weighing the procedural options. 

"But I’ve been really clear, and I’m not going to violate the very first thing I do as an elected member of Congress in front of my constituents," she said. 

Tlaib, a former state lawmaker and community activist, has also been pressing leadership to give the historic incoming freshmen a "seat at the table" on the most influential House committees such as Appropriations, where Tlaib hopes to sit. 

"That's what I'm focused on right now," Tlaib said when asked if she'd vote for Pelosi.

"I can be very clear. I am not voting for a Republican as Speaker of the House, and there is nobody running as her opponent. But it’s very clear to me that I need to continue advocating and pushing to ensure that — while it's great you want to honor the diversity of the incoming class — honor it by putting people like myself on critical committees."

Tlaib is one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress. She will succeed former Rep. John Conyers Jr. next year. representing the 13th District that covers parts of Detroit and Wayne County. 

"I want to make sure Leader Pelosi understands this is the third-poorest congressional district in the country — a district that's been continually neglected on a number of fronts, especially on issues around poverty and education and funding that need to be at the forefront," Tlaib said. 

Tlaib has spoken to Pelosi several times and said she hopes to continue the conversation. 

Stevens met with Pelosi before Thanksgiving but said Monday she is undecided. She planned to speak with Pelosi again before Wednesday's caucus vote and did not rule out voting for her on the floor.

"Look, there's one person running," Stevens said. "It's evident in many ways how Wednesday's going to turn out."

Stevens said she's made her points to leadership about the need for generational and Midwestern leadership and prioritizing the issues around manufacturing, infrastructure and the workforce development that she campaigned on. 

"I certainly am not going to be voting for (Republican Leader) Kevin McCarthy, but I take pretty seriously what the people of Michigan's 11th District voted me in for, and it wasn't to play political parlor games and things along those lines. It's to deliver," Stevens said. 

Andy Levin was elected to succeed his father, retiring Rep. Sandy Levin of Royal Oak. The younger Levin hosted Pelosi at a fundraiser in Bloomfield Hills last month to raise money for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. 

"I remember clearly what an effective speaker she was in the past. I am grateful to her for coming to the 9th District and indeed crisscrossing the nation to help raise the funds needed to take back the majority so we can restore some dignity and public purpose to our government," he said in a Tuesday statement.

"However, my vote is about the future, not the past. In my judgment, Nancy Pelosi is the steely, patient and strategic leader we need to take maximum advantage of our precious opportunity to turn our great nation in a healthier and more inspiring direction."

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, issued a full-throated endorsement of Pelosi last week, saying that when Flint needed help, Pelosi asked what she could do.  

She visited Flint several times and helped get $170 million in federal aid into a spending package in a GOP-controlled Congress.

"It is exactly this type of commitment that we need from the next speaker of the House. Nancy Pelosi is tough and knows how to get things done," Kildee said in his statement. 

Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, and Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, both said they intend to vote for Pelosi.