Pelosi lies: I have the votes to be Speaker

She does not have the votes to be Speaker. Not unless a lot of people were lying last night. Watch, then read on.

Note that she’s asked about a letter and fires back, defensively, “Have you seen the letter?” That’s a reference to a document that may or may not actually exist formalizing the opposition of 17 Democrats to Pelosi as Speaker. The Democratic majority next year will be small enough that if those 17 really, truly, sincerely resolve not to vote for her and are willing to risk Pelosi’s wrath by saying so publicly, she can’t get to 218 votes in the Speaker race. (Unless Republicans decided to wreak havoc by voting present — or voting for Pelosi themselves.) HuffPost’s sources claim that there really is a letter, though, and that it’s being held back for now only because the group of 17 is hoping to get a few more Dems to join before releasing it. All 17 signatories plus the group of maybes are listed here. Is Pelosi sunk? Maybe not yet:

But Pelosi also has a number of ways she could wrangle the speaker’s gavel even if a dozen and a half members pledge to oppose her. For one, Democrats could make a new rule binding every member to vote for the Democratic nominee. Rule changes associated with that idea are already under consideration, and there’s some thought that Pelosi may try to formalize rules so that Democrats have to vote for her, though many members question how this strategy would work. (Would they kick out the members who don’t vote for the Democratic nominee? Would they still have a majority?)

There’s also the thought that some Republicans could vote “present,” thus lowering the threshold for Pelosi. But that presents its own challenges. In effect, Republicans would have veto power over the speaker and Pelosi would not be negotiating from any position of strength.

Seventeen members is close to the bare minimum needed to block her, although “Pelosi’s opponents also told HuffPost they think the actual number of Democrats who do not want to vote for Pelosi is much larger than anyone anticipates, and they remain confident she doesn’t have the votes.” One of Pelosi’s trump cards, as Ed noted yesterday, has been the idea that you can’t beat something with nothing. Most of the caucus supports her; if the insurgents can’t offer an alternative candidate, what’s left to talk about? But … what if they can offer an alternative candidate? One who’s younger and looks more like the Democratic base in 2018 than Pelosi herself does?

Rep. Marcia L. Fudge said on Thursday that she has been “overwhelmed” by the support from many of her colleagues for her possible entry into the race for House speaker, becoming the first Democrat to publicly acknowledge a challenge to longtime party leader Nancy Pelosi.

“Over the last 12 hours, I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of support I’ve received,” Fudge said in an interview with The Washington Post, adding that there are “probably closer to 30” Democrats who have privately signaled that they are willing to oppose Pelosi.

“Things could change rapidly,” Fudge said with a smile as she sat in her office, with her phone buzzing nearby.

Fudge is a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. When Tim Ryan challenged Pelosi for minority leader two years ago, one problem he was up against was that he was a midwestern white guy. We need midwestern white guys, he argued, reminding the caucus of Trump’s victory in the Rust Belt. But Democrats increasingly depend on women and minority voters, a fact which Pelosi’s own allies have exploited this week in noting how bad it would look if the first woman Speaker were prevented from taking the gavel again by a man. The solution to that problem among the anti-Pelosi group is to find a woman challenger within their own ranks. Fudge fits the bill, with the potential to become not just the second woman Speaker in U.S. history but the first black Speaker. Since it’s taken for granted among the left that Trump is a white nationalist, who better to do battle with him on their behalf than Fudge?

Ryan, by the way, pulled 63 votes to Pelosi’s 134 in their caucus battle to be minority leader two years ago, a respectable showing. More than five dozen of his colleagues preferred someone other than Nancy. The stakes are much higher now with Democrats in the majority so members will be more reluctant to strike at the Queen, but Fudge emerging as a challenger and potentially galvanizing the CBC to back her is perilous for Pelosi. Once fencesitters become convinced that she really can’t get to 218, her support might collapse.

Most opinion among the chatterati to which I’ve been exposed on Twitter has been that it’d be borderline rude to try to dethrone Pelosi when she’s on the cusp of running the House again. She was the caucus leader who presided over their big gains last week, wasn’t she? She’s an effective legislator who got ObamaCare passed against long odds in 2010, didn’t she? Well, then, stand aside. I don’t understand that logic, though. The fact that Pelosi didn’t prevent a blue wave doesn’t mean she’s not toxic, it simply means she’s not as toxic as Trump and the GOP were this time. If she gets the credit for last week’s win, why doesn’t she get (some of) the blame for the previous four election cycles in which Democrats were relegated to the minority?

And who cares if she’s an effective legislator? She’s facing a Republican Senate and a Republican president. Nothing she passes is getting signed into law over the next two years. Democrats are better off booting her, installing a younger team, and letting them use these next two years as low-stakes on-the-job training in the hope/expectation that they’ll have total control of government after 2020. The top two, Pelosi and Hoyer, have been there since Bush’s first term; it’s embarrassing that the “party of the young” or whatever is stuck with these near-octogenarians who can’t relinquish power even though there’s nothing much for them to do for the rest of the decade except rubber-stamp committee subpoenas. If the anti-Pelosi group is going to end up caving by voting “present” instead of no — which, let’s face it, is the likely outcome — they should at least use the momentum they have now to try to extract a pledge from her and Hoyer about stepping down at some mutually agreeable time. Even if they try to back out of the pledge later, the mere fact that they’ve made it might embolden Democratic fencesitters to join the anti-Pelosis when they do.