House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) looked to make a show of strength on Wednesday during the first day of caucus meetings since her party won control of the chamber, pushing out key endorsements for her as speaker even as her critics promised they had the votes to block her on the House floor in January.
“I’m a busy person, but I will be the speaker of the House, no matter what he said,” Pelosi declared to reporters late Wednesday morning, swiping back at Rep. Seth Moulton’s (D-MA) Tuesday night claims that his group agitating for new Democratic leadership had enough votes to keep her from the 218 needed to return to the speakership.
But Pelosi is clearly working hard to make sure that proclamation comes true.
Her office unveiled endorsements from six more national unions on Wednesday, bringing the total to 13 including the AFL-CIO and SEIU. The vast majority of heavy hitters in the Democratic power structure, including women’s groups and progressive organizations, have already endorsed her.
Most House Democrats are solidly behind her as well, and no opponent has stepped forward to challenge her, though Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) floated herself as a possible candidate Wednesday. But the requirement that a House speaker needs 218 votes on the House floor, combined with Democrats’ relatively small majority and the high number of freshmen likely to face tough races next year mean she can’t afford to lose many people.
“I don’t think it’s a cakewalk. The math is what it is. It only takes x number to block getting to 218, so you can have a fairly overwhelming vote in the caucus and still not have 218,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), a Pelosi supporter, told TPM. “I think Nancy’s doing everything in her power to get there. And we’ll see if the votes are there or not.”
Democrats will have at least 229 seats in the House next year after netting at least 34 seats. Eight more races are very close and have yet to be called by the Associated Press, with Democrats favored to win five or six of them.
That means Pelosi can only lose somewhere between 11 and 19 votes, depending on how the final races are called, and still win back the speaker’s gavel.
The big question is how many of the dozens of newly elected Democratic members are ready to back her. Many called for new party leadership on the campaign trail, but many of those left themselves wiggle room by refusing to declare whether that meant just an inconsequential vote in caucus or a much more important one on the House floor.
It’s a tough spot: Many new incoming members are from swing or GOP-leaning districts, and if they use their first vote in the House to back Pelosi after indicating they didn’t want to that puts them in a tough spot from the get-go for reelection.
On Wednesday, many new members were keeping their powder dry.
“I’m still making up my mind,” Rep.-elect Lauren Underwood (D-IL) told TPM.
“I never want to be disrespectful to anyone who has served, especially a woman who’s broken glass ceilings,” Rep.-elect Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) told reporters before calling for “new leadership” and promising to vote against Pelosi. But she wouldn’t definitively say if that meant a vote against Pelosi on the floor.
Rep.-elect Josh Harder (D-CA), whose win over Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) was called by the AP less than a day ago, said he’s keeping an “open mind,” refusing to commit for or against Pelosi.
Moulton and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) are guaranteeing they have roughly 20 members ready to commit to opposing Pelosi on the House floor in early January, the key vote. They’re promising a letter from those members, and on Wednesday evening HuffPost reported that 17 Democrats are currently signed onto the letter, roughly enough to keep her from becoming speaker if they all oppose Pelosi on the floor. The list can be seen here.
She’ll easily get the majority of Democrats in a caucus vote scheduled Nov. 28, but that will be a key test of how many defectors there are.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), who once clashed mightily with Pelosi, was one of the endorsements that Pelosi unveiled on Wednesday.
“She has earned it. She has worked indefatigably over several congresses to restore a majority, we now have it and it couldn’t come too soon, and I know how hard she’s worked for it,” she told TPM.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), a Trump-district Democrat backing Pelosi, told TPM he’d talked to some new members from similar districts in his region who’d asked him his thoughts on how to handle the vote for speaker.
“I’ve won a Trump district four times. I’m a gay guy with an interracial family. I know exactly what caricature they build around Nancy Pelosi and I can tell you she’s the strongest leader we have right now. She’s got the votes to win and we’re going to get good things done for the people who sent us here,” he said.
Rep.-elect Harley Rouda (D-CA), who just defeated Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), was one of the many new Democrats who wasn’t ready to commit to Pelosi: “At this time I’ve made no decisions on anyone,” he said.
But he said if it came down to Pelosi or incoming House Minority Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) on the House floor, it would be a “no-brainer” to vote for his party’s leader.
Pelosi is working hard behind the scenes to make sure there are 217 others like him.
This story was updated at 5:55 p.m.