House Democrats nominate Pelosi to lead them

House Democrats voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to nominate Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to the Speakership in a 203-32 vote.

The outcome was no surprise despite an entrenched rebellion from insurgent lawmakers who want changes to Democratic leadership. Pelosi was running uncontested and enjoys widespread support within the liberal-heavy caucus she’s led since 2003.

The 32 votes against her were fewer than the 63 votes won in a 2016 contest for minority leader by Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who ran against Pelosi at the time.

Still, Pelosi faces a tougher test the first week of January, when the full House meets to choose the Speaker in a public vote requiring a majority of the entire voting chamber.

Pelosi cannot afford 32 Democratic votes against her in that contest, though she has weeks to convince some of her opponents to either vote for her on the floor or vote "present" — reducing the total number of votes needed for victory.

Wednesday’s vote was conducted by private ballot in the Ways and Means Committee hearing room in the Longworth House Office Building. It was reflective of the unusual nature of this year’s leadership elections that there were written ballots at all.

Pelosi was running unchallenged for the Speaker nomination in the next Congress, and typically such races are decided by unanimous consent. This year, however, the clamor for casting a protest vote — particularly from incoming freshmen who had promised voters to oppose Pelosi — was loud enough that party leaders offered paper ballots with a simple “yes/no” option on the question of whether Pelosi should be Speaker.

Indeed, Pelosi herself had given lawmakers the green light to vote against her in the closed ballot, with the idea that it may liberate them to vote “present” in the Jan. 3 floor vote, according to a Democratic lawmaker familiar with the discussions.

“Pelosi has released some members to vote no in caucus and then vote present on the House floor,” the lawmaker said Wednesday morning, before the voting began.

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) said that rebel members met with Pelosi before the vote in an effort "to engage her in a reasonable conversation about leadership transition," but were rejected.

"Unfortunately, our concerns were dismissed outright," she said in a statement.

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), who was also in the meeting with Pelosi, said he was disappointed that no agreement was reached and is hopeful she "will invite us back to the table to plan for the future success of the Democratic Party."

Lawmakers cast their ballots just after a deal was announced between Pelosi and the Problem Solvers Caucus on changes to rules aimed at empowering rank-and-file lawmakers and breaking partisan gridlock.

Nine Democrats in the bipartisan, 48-member caucus had vowed to withhold their support for Pelosi — or any other Speaker nominee — unless the candidate commits, in writing, to the changes.

In the closed-door meeting, Pelosi was officially nominated by Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.). A number of other Democrats then addressed the caucus to voice their support for the longtime leader, a list that included Reps. Adam Schiff (Calif.) and John Lewis (Ga.), as well as Reps.-elect Angie Craig (Minn.) and Veronica Escobar (Texas).

Also in the room during Wednesday's vote was Pelosi's husband, Paul Pelosi, who arrived separately.

Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), who endorsed Nancy Pelosi last week after initially signing a letter opposing her, said it was positive for Democrats to have a public debate about what direction their party should go — and who should lead it.

"Democracy is a sloppy mess. ... There are a lot of differing views, even within the Democratic Caucus. The ability to pull that together is not clean and efficient all the time, and everyone has laid on the table what they are looking for," Higgins told reporters. "Everyone here, 435 members in the House, has one legislative tool and that is their vote."

The insurgents quickly claimed victory, noting that the 32 votes against Pelosi are enough to prevent her from winning a simple majority of the full House in January, assuming all members participate, no Republicans cross the aisle and no one votes “present.”

A few House races are still too close to call, but the Democrats appear on track to hold 235 seats in the next Congress, meaning Pelosi could lose 17 Democrats on the House floor and still win the Speaker’s gavel.

Pelosi’s task between now and then will be to pick off several of those detractors before the public vote.

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