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Lauren Underwood throws support to embattled Pelosi for House speaker

Lauren Underwood gives her victory speech during her election night party at the Kane County Fairgrounds Prairie Event Center on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in St. Charles, Ill. | Mark Black/For the Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — Rep.-elect Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., one of the higher-profile freshmen, announced Wednesday she is backing embattled Nancy Pelosi for speaker, still short of the votes she needs to reclaim the gavel.

Underwood, in her successful campaign to defeat Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., for the 14th Congressional District seat, stayed on the fence about whether Pelosi should be speaker if the Democrats won the House.

Pelosi never surfaced as a major issue in the district, which takes in suburban and rural parts of Kendall, Kane, DuPage, McHenry and Lake counties, stretching from the Wisconsin border to south of Yorkville.

Pelosi, the first female House speaker, is in a battle to reclaim the gavel because a small group of Democrats – one of them Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., are pledging to block her because she has been in power too long.

As of Wednesday, Pelosi is short of the votes she will need to be elected speaker when all 435 members of the new Congress meet Jan. 3.

Pelosi does have the support needed to win a Nov. 28 ballot where House Democrats in effect “nominate” a speaker.

“I am honored to represent my community in Washington and ready to get to work on their behalf, which is why House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has my support for speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives,” Underwood said in a statement.

“Leader Pelosi shares my commitments to passing legislation to lower health-care costs, investing in our country’s infrastructure, protecting our communities from gun violence, instituting a policy solution for young DREAMers and ensuring integrity at the highest levels of our government.”

Underwood’s endorsement comes after meeting with Pelosi last week and may signal that new, progressive, younger members have priorities other than splitting Democrats at a time when they want to be unified and don’t want to experiment with untested leaders.

Rep.–elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, at 29 the youngest House freshman, is also backing Pelosi, saying in a Twitter post, as “long as Leader Pelosi remains the most progressive candidate for Speaker, she can count on my support.”

Underwood, 32, already has a larger profile than other members of her freshman class — appearing on two Sunday and other national news shows since the Nov. 6 election, so her support of Pelosi, 78 — along with Ocasio-Cortez’s may help erode an argument against Pelosi that it is time for a “generational” change.

Also Wednesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel came out for Pelosi, part of the Pelosi team drive to collect influential endorsements. Emanuel emphasized that with a GOP Senate and President Donald Trump, the House Democrats don’t need a “rookie” speaker.

“I have worked with Nancy Pelosi in Congress, and I have clashed with Nancy Pelosi as White House Chief of Staff,” Emanuel said in a statement.

“….This is no time to have a rookie sitting across the table from Mitch McConnell or Donald Trump or both. Nancy Pelosi is as tough and cagey as McConnell is ruthless and Trump is unprincipled. It is time for a Speaker that can go toe-to-toe with both of them in support of Democratic values. Rookies need not apply. Let’s keep our eye on the prize.”

Underwood backing Pelosi is not a surprise.

Every issue Underwood ran on is a policy Pelosi backs.

One of Underwood’s priorities is preserving and improving Obamacare. Underwood worked in former President Barack Obama’s administration on health policy and, on the stump, told her story about having a pre-existing condition, supraventricular tachycardia, which makes her heart race.

There would likely be no Obamacare without Pelosi, whose mastery of legislation and tactics got it passed for Obama.

Pelosi was the speaker on March 21, 2010, when she was able to jam the Affordable Care Act through the House with only a vote to spare and no GOP support.

Underwood is part of a network of Obama administration alumni who ran for office in the midterms.

On Tuesday, Obama came out in support of Pelosi.

Where the Illinois House Democrats stand:

Hard no: Foster

Potential no: Dan Lipinski

Publicly uncommitted: Raja Krishnamoorthi; Sean Casten; Jesus “Chuy” Garcia

Yes: Bobby Rush; Robin Kelly; Mike Quigley; Danny Davis; Jan Schakowsky; Brad Schneider; Underwood; Cheri Bustos.