WASHINGTON — Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi easily clinched the nomination for speaker on Wednesday but without enough votes to guarantee her election when the full House votes on Jan. 3.
Three leaders of a small group of about 15 — Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., is one of the holdouts — met with Pelosi before the vote, softening their “Never Nancy” position with a demand that Pelosi, from California, and the other two top leaders, Steny Hoyer, from Maryland, and James Clyburn, of South Carolina, — septuagenarians all — tell them when they will step aside to allow a new generation of leaders to surface.
House Democratic members tapped Pelosi, 78, for speaker with Hoyer, 79, and Clyburn, 78, to be the three top leaders. The youth movement was represented with the selection of Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, 46, from New Mexico for the number four spot and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, 48, from New York, for the fifth spot.
In a secret ballot, Pelosi, running unopposed, won 203 yes votes; 32 no and three blank ballots. But that included Democratic delegates (such as Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents Washington) who do not get to vote on the House floor.
Taking out the delegates and adding in a pro-Pelosi member in the hospital, puts Pelosi heading into January with 200 yes votes in a scenario where she may need 218 backers if all 435 House members vote.
Pelosi, who became the first female speaker on Jan. 4, 2007, could reclaim the gavel with a few fewer votes if members vote present or are absent. The winning speaker has to get a majority of votes cast.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” Pelosi told reporters. “Again, I don’t want to speak — I don’t want to make other people’s announcements for them, but we go forward with confidence and humility.”
An issue Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., told me when we talked on Tuesday was the matter of a small minority of House Democrats trying to thwart the will of the majority who clearly want Pelosi.
Pelosi addressed this notion in a comment to reporters.
“Let me tell you something. I’m talking about scores of Members of Congress who just gave me a vote — giving me a vote of confidence. That is where our focus is. Are there dissenters? Yes, but I expect to have a powerful vote as we go forward.”
A ringleader of Foster’s group, Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-NY, publicly articulated their demands for the first time on Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters after the vote, Rice said, “I think people need to know when this leadership team plans on turning the reins over to the next generation of leaders.”
Pelosi met with Rice and two others from the group — not Foster — before the vote and Rice said, “There was a discussion about timelines,” though there was no deal about leadership “transition.”
“The best way forward at this point is for private negotiations among the parties,” Foster told me.
A group of nine House centrist Democrats, including Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., part of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, used their leverage to win a package of rules changes that will make it easier for members to get votes on their legislations.
Lipinski voted for Pelosi on Wednesday and said if their deal holds, he will be a yes vote Jan. 3.
“While we didn’t get all that we asked for, and even though I believe we can and should seek more changes going forward, I’m pleased to have been able to make progress on these reforms,” Lipinski said in a statement.
Republicans demonized Pelosi in many races, and some new members in tough districts pledged to vote against her for speaker. Pelosi’s team did not have a problem with those members casting no votes on Wednesday.
Said Pelosi near the end of her news conference, “every Congress, I listen, I learn, we incorporate; we are invigorated by new Members coming in and new thinking of our Members …
“… We have an historic freshman class by dint of their experience, their diversity, their gender. It’s something very, very special. Let us just take a moment to dwell around the fact that we are in the majority. Majority, majority, majority!”