WASHINGTON — Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., a physicist trying to block House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi from becoming House speaker, is testing an established law of politics: You can’t beat somebody with nobody.
Foster is part of a group of 15 Democrats — last week it was 16 — who are withholding support for Pelosi while at the same time not having someone lined up to replace her.
When we talked last week, Foster told me he expects Pelosi to “step aside” when she realizes she does not have the votes to become speaker, and then there will be “new candidates that I expect to step forward.”
Foster, 63, said what is really at issue is “a need for the next generation of leadership in the party.”
I asked Foster if an acceptable compromise would be for Pelosi, 78, to pledge to make this her final term, so people could get in the pipeline.
“Until we hear a clear statement from Nancy Pelosi’s office that she understands that she doesn’t have the votes to win on the floor and that she will be stepping aside, then at this point, unfortunately, there is very little to negotiate.”
Foster’s scenario to deny Pelosi her second speakership only works if Foster and his small gang of plotters maintain their leverage.
They don’t have much of a margin.
Pelosi, the first female speaker when she won the gavel in 2007, picked off one of the plotters, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-NY, last week, who folded after he said Pelosi agreed to let him take a lead on expanding Medicare.
On Sunday, Politico reported that another rebel, Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., told a local TV station, “If it becomes a choice between a Republican and Nancy Pelosi, I’ll obviously support Nancy Pelosi.”
Foster is willing to spark a messy fight over speaker as many House Democrats want to take aim at President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans, not each other.
House Democrats caucus on Wednesday to select their new leaders and Pelosi will win that vote, where she only needs a majority of just the Democrats.
The entire House votes for speaker Jan. 3, and this is where the math gets troublesome for Pelosi, assuming all the Republicans stick together to vote for their leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as speaker.
Pelosi has to get a majority of the entire 435-member House to be elected speaker. Democrats will have a 233-seat majority (a few races are still not called) so she does not have a lot of room to spare. Pelosi’s path is easier if her foes vote present or are absent.
Being part of an attempted coup is politically out of character for Foster, a cautious, methodical scientist who represents the 11th district, which takes in Chicago’s western suburbs, and considered running for the Senate in 2016.
More from Foster:
His brief against Pelosi: “There is a widespread feeling that Congress will be more effective if we devolved more authority to the committees — to the committee chairs and staff and members of the committees — and that the Democratic Party as well as Congress will be more effective without having single, all-powerful, central authority, which is the way Congress has been run by the Republicans and the Democrats in recent years.”
Who are potential speakers? “There will be no shortage of very competent people.”
Explain what next generation of leaders means, since Sen. Bernie Sanders was a favorite of younger voters when he ran for president: “A change of leadership. I think it’s best left in those simple terms.”
On if Foster was aware of his critics on social media for his move against Pelosi: “I don’t normally monitor my Twitter. In any case, you know, scientists are not usually an easy bunch to intimidate.”
On the influence of his father, a civil rights lawyer, in his anti-Pelosi push: “He just tried to make the system work better.”