House Democrats come into their new majority exuding confidence. Just ask them! Nancy Pelosi told CNN’s Chris Cuomo a few days ago that she has “total … 100%” confidence that she will become Speaker again when the 116th Session begins. Oddly, her opponents in her own caucus feel total, “100%” confidence that she won’t:
Two Democrats leading the rebellion against Nancy Pelosi were bullish Tuesday evening about their efforts to stop her from winning the speakership, promising to soon reveal that they had enough support to cause a major shake-up at the top of their caucus.
The Democrats, Reps. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Filemon Vela of Texas, contended that their private conversations revealed that Pelosi would soon learn that she lacked backing within the full House to be elected speaker next year — despite her confidence that she would lock down the necessary support.
“I am 100% confident we can forge new leadership,” Vela told CNN. Asked how confident they were that they could defeat Pelosi, Moulton also said: “100%.”
Roll Call also talked with Moulton, who said he wants to avoid a floor fight if possible. He’s planning on releasing a letter calling for “new Democratic leadership” with enough signatures to force Pelosi to withdraw:
The anti-Pelosi group has been gathering signatures from new and returning members on a letter that calls for new Democratic leadership. It also notes that the signatories will not back Pelosi during the January floor vote for speaker.
Moulton suggested they already have enough signatures to prevent Pelosi from getting 218 votes but declined to specify exactly how many.
“The whole point of the letter is to accelerate this process so that it doesn’t peel out on to the floor,” he said. “She’s the one that’s trying to drive this to a floor vote. We want to make it clear before it comes to that.”
Moulton thinks he can embarrass Pelosi into withdrawing from leadership? The woman lost four elections in a row for House Democrats before finally scoring a W last week. Pelosi didn’t let shame get in the way of maintaining an iron grip on her caucus then, so it seems unlikely that she’d shy away from a floor fight after a win now.
Someone’s playing a confidence game here, but who? The Washington Post surveyed the field of incoming and returning Democrats, and JM Rieger thinks Pelosi should be worried if politicians stick to their campaign promises. That, of course, makes the flaw rather obvious, right?
If the current leads hold in the nine outstanding House races not yet called by the Associated Press, Democrats will control 232 seats next year, meaning Pelosi can only afford to lose 14 Democratic votes on the floor, assuming every Republican votes against her and no members vote present.
While it is unclear which, if any, members will vote against Pelosi on the House floor, the eight non-incumbent Democrats opposed to her combined with the eight incumbents who previously pledged to vote against Pelosi would be enough to prevent her from reaching the needed 218 votes. In 2016, 63 Democrats voted against Pelosi in a caucus vote but only four voted against her on the floor less than two months later.
Pelsoi’s already flipping a few of her detractors now that the election is over:
Additionally, no fewer than five incoming House Democrats now say they will support Pelosi after previously dodging questions about her, and at least two are now dodging questions about the California Democrat after previously saying they would not vote for her. Three incoming, previous-serving Democrats who have not said how they will vote each supported Pelosi in previous leadership elections.
On the other hand, here’s HuffPo reporter Matt Fuller hearing rumblings from Pelosi’s supporters that she may not survive it:
Multiple Democratic members who publicly support Pelosi are speculating to me on background that she doesn’t have the numbers and can’t get there.
— Matt Fuller (@MEPFuller) November 14, 2018
With supporters like these … It would be one of the higher points of political irony if Pelosi held onto leadership through four straight losses and lost it after finally winning for the first time in a decade. That’d be a little tough for Democrats to explain, but NBC points up another problem with Moulton’s effort. Who, exactly, would they propose for the speakership? So far no one seems anxious to come at the queen:
But here’s the problem for Pelosi’s opponents: There is currently no other House Dem stepping forward to take her on. “Asked about how the Pelosi defectors could beat somebody with nobody, [Rep. Seth] Moulton seemed undeterred, saying there was plenty of talent in the Democratic Caucus,” HuffPo’s Matt Fuller writes. But no one from that talent has accepted the challenge to compete against Pelosi.
So Democrats are stuck — between the option of an unpopular Pelosi who’s problematic for many of the House freshman who just won, and the option of no real Plan B.
You can’t beat something with nothing, as an old axiom instructs. And even if you want to beat something, you’d better have the correct math to do it. All of this only matters if these Democrats refuse to vote for Pelosi in the House floor vote. Pelosi only needs a majority in the caucus vote to win the nomination for Speaker, so unless all of these newly elected Democrats plan to cast a vote for Republican Kevin McCarthy, it doesn’t matter.
Or they could all fulfill their campaign pledges not to support Pelosi and still have her capture the gavel, as NBC notes:
Also on January 3, Pelosi opponents could vote “present,” reducing the magic number she needs to capture a majority.
That’s almost certainly the face-saving option most will take. Pelosi will not go quietly into that good night, no matter how much Moulton wishes it to be so. When it comes down to a floor vote, Democrats are going to make sure a Democrat retains the speaker’s office — and Republicans might too, because a minority speakership would be a total distraction for both parties. House Democrats desperately need fresh leadership, but first they need someone to actually step up and lead.