WASHINGTON ― Nancy Pelosi’s bid to become House speaker again is running up against dueling realities: One reality is that she is the most capable Democrat in the House, confident the party’s gains were significant enough to propel her to the speakership, and another reality is that about two dozen Democrats are prepared to block her from the spot.
Neither scenario seems entirely right or entirely wrong.
Pelosi continues to express optimism that she can outmaneuver any contingent of Democrats standing in her way from once again ascending from minority leader to speaker. She’s wooing freshman Democrats, showing up to orientation sessions, hosting dinner receptions and making friends.
But there’s confidence from Pelosi’s detractors that she doesn’t have the votes.
Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) told reporters Tuesday night that he was “100 percent” confident there were enough votes to block Pelosi ― more than 20 ― during a speaker floor vote. He said the anti-Pelosi members planned to release a letter demonstrating to Pelosi that she doesn’t have the votes, at which point they expect other Democrats to step up and run for the speaker position.
Moulton said the members, led by less than a dozen existing Representatives and some incoming Democrats who have said they won’t support Pelosi, are figuring out when to release the letter ― “we’re going to see what makes the most sense” ― but they plan to do it before the caucus votes for its leaders behind closed doors at the end of November.
To be speaker, a Democrat would have to win that election among just Democrats in November, but he or she would also have to win an election among the full House on Jan. 3. If current projections hold, Democrats look like they’ll have a majority of 233 to 235 members out of 435 total, meaning Pelosi could lose 15 to 17 votes and still be elected speaker.
But the math is even more complicated and forgiving to Pelosi. If she could convince some Democrats to vote present, as two Democratic sources have told HuffPost she is trying to do, she could lower the threshold to be speaker to under 218 and potentially secure the vote with less than an actual majority on the floor.
Moulton, however, says no one in his group is interested in voting present. “Imagine a candidate, coming and taking their first vote on the floor of the House of Representatives ― present?” he said.
Moulton said he had another member approach him a couple of hours before House votes Tuesday night about not supporting Pelosi, and yet another member came to him on the floor during votes. He thinks the numbers are quite stark for Pelosi.
But Pelosi’s contingent sees the numbers going the other way.
They point to a letter signed by 11 Democrats asking for a proposed speaker rule change ― a letter that one of the Democrats, Albio Sires (D-N.J.), is now removed from after he came out in support of Pelosi on Friday.
Still, that leaves Moulton, Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Filemon Vela Jr. (D-Texas), Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), Bill Foster (D-Ill.) and Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.).
On top of that, you have Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), who has traditionally voted against Pelosi, Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), who has consistently said he won’t support her to be speaker, and a handful of incoming Democrats who have said ― to varying degrees ― that they also won’t vote for her, including Jason Crow (D-Colo.), Andy Kim (D-N.J.), Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.), Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.), Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.), Max Rose (D-N.Y.), Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) and Haley Stevens (D-Mich.).
Democrats from at least three uncalled races ― Jared Golden (D-Maine), Ben McAdams (D-Utah) and Gil Cisneros (D-Calif.) ― have also said they won’t support Pelosi.
It’s easy to see how Pelosi’s vote problem isn’t fake. But it’s also difficult to see who would be speaker if it’s not her.
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) seems eternally stuck at the No. 2 spot in Democratic leadership. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), currently the assistant minority leader, could be a natural contender, but he says he backs Pelosi, though he also told HuffPost on Tuesday night that, if he were elected speaker, he would serve.
The fresher faces of Democratic leadership ― people like Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) ― seem more interested in moving one rung up the ladder than they are in mounting an actual speaker bid. Jeffries, who is in a race with Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to be conference chair, coyly told HuffPost on Tuesday night that he still has trouble seeing himself as a member of Congress let alone speaker, and Bustos is focused on her race to become the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) and Denny Heck (D-Wash.) are also vying to be DCCC chair.
The former DCCC chairman, Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, is in a race to become the assistant majority leader with David Cicilline of Rhode Island, and Luján could be a contender for the speakership if Pelosi were blocked.
In short, there are plenty of potential candidates ― and none at all.
Asked about how the Pelosi defectors could beat somebody with nobody, Moulton seemed undeterred, saying there was plenty of talent in the Democratic Caucus.
Moulton was also unafraid of a potential backlash to blocking Pelosi ― the only woman to ever serve as speaker. He said he would prefer the next speaker be another woman, and he pointed to polling that, he said, shows most Democrats want new leadership.
Moulton was the focus of some dismissive remarks from Pelosi earlier this year, when she told Rolling Stone that he and Ohio’s Tim Ryan were both “inconsequential.”
The anti-Pelosi members have had trouble organizing a convincing campaign thus far. When Ryan was asked about Pelosi on Tuesday night, he barely said anything other than unhelpfully telling reporters that there was “a lot of conversations.”
There’s also a question about whether the Pelosi detractors will try to get another rule change vote Wednesday morning, or whether one of Pelosi’s allies would potentially bring up their motion and have it voted down.
But their machinations could quickly become real if they can release a letter with 20 Democrats who vow not to support Pelosi. That would put the California Democrat in a tough position, as she would need some of those Democrats to go back on their word, or she would need Republicans to vote for her.
Neither outcome seems all that likely, but most Democratic members still seem to believe Pelosi can work her way out of this.
“She’s going to be light-years ahead of anyone in our caucus,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) told HuffPost.
And a former member of Democratic leadership, John Larson (D-Conn.), predicted that all three leaders would remain at the top. “They’ve done a good job. We won. We’re back in the majority,” he said.