It’s official: Nancy Pelosi is Democrats’ nominee for House speaker. But the speakership race is far from over.
House Democrats overwhelmingly voted to pick Pelosi as their leader going into the final January 3 House speaker vote, with 203 in favor of her to 32 against. Three members did not vote, and Rep. Patrick Maloney, who has said he plans to support Pelosi, was absent due to illness. Pelosi ran unopposed.
To become speaker, Pelosi needs to win 218 votes on the House floor, where both Republicans and Democrats will vote. And by the looks of the Democratic conference vote, she still needs to do some convincing within her own ranks.
It’s hard to extrapolate much from the conference vote. Pelosi had more support for speaker this year than she did in 2016 for the minority leader job, when she lost 63 votes to relative unknown Rep. Tim Ryan (OH), a moderate Democrat who decided not to run against Pelosi again. And it’s very likely lawmakers will flip their vote on the House floor, when the stakes are higher. (Anyone can be House speaker — even a member of the party not in the majority.)
“I think some of those ‘no’ votes, when we’re on the floor, [will] vote for her,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) told reporters. “It becomes a question of do you want to have a Republican speaker of the House or do you want to have a Democratic speaker of the House? It becomes less about Nancy Pelosi and more about do you want to have Democratic issues being addressed?”
But Pelosi’s biggest detractors are still saying she doesn’t have the support.
Pelosi’s detractors still say they need a deal to vote for her
Democrats have so far flipped 40 seats in the 2018 midterms, with only one race in North Carolina left outstanding. That would give them a 35-seat majority in the House: 235 Democrats to 200 Republicans. Assuming all the Republicans vote against Pelosi, she can only afford to lose 17 Democrats in the final tally.
Sixteen Democrats have signed a letter saying they will not vote for Pelosi unless she lays out a leadership transition plan. Several newly elected members campaigned against her but did not sign the letter. Behind the scenes, she has been trying to negotiate a deal with them, but so far, she’s drawn a line at giving a date of when she’d step down.
“It was a not terribly productive conversation, but hopefully they will continue,” Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY), who voted against Pelosi, said about negotiations with the leadership team. “Now, none of us want to take this to a floor fight, but the voters have to be heard, we need to protect new members, and hopefully we will have more conversations in the future.”
The detractors won’t say exactly what they’re looking for from Pelosi. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) said he wanted a “meaningful plan for a leadership transition,” but Rice wouldn’t say what that might be if not Pelosi committing to a date to step down.
Still, while Pelosi’s nomination in the Democratic conference came easy, work remains for her to secure enough support to make it final.