/Pelosi swats at Moulton and guarantees she’ll be speaker

Pelosi swats at Moulton and guarantees she’ll be speaker





Nancy Pelosi

“I’m a busy person, but I will be the speaker of the House no matter what he said,” House Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters as she exited a closed-door caucus meeting Wednesday morning. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

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Ohio Democrat Marcia Fudge, a well-respected member of the House, says she’s considering a bid.

A potential challenger to Nancy Pelosi emerged on Wednesday as her critics worked behind the scenes to try to deny her the votes to be speaker.

Former Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia Fudge of Ohio told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that she is considering a bid for the gavel. Fudge, who has signed a letter vowing to oppose Pelosi on the House floor, does not believe the California Democrat can clinch the 218 votes needed to return to her old position.

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“People are asking me to do it, and I am thinking about it,” Fudge said. “I need to give it some thought and see if I have an interest. I am at the very beginning of this process. It is just in discussion at this point.”

Fudge’s announcement comes as a tug of war within the House Democratic Caucus over the next speaker of the House kicked into high gear Wednesday. Pelosi leaned on incoming Democrats who’ve signaled a desire for new leadership — and her critics implored them to hold firm.

Fudge is among 17 incoming lawmakers and incumbents who have signed onto a yet-to-be-released letter vowing to vote against Pelosi on the floor. It’s a major problem for the Californian’s campaign to recapture the job. The letter does not include signatures from several other incoming freshmen who have said they will not back Pelosi on the floor but are uncomfortable signing at the moment.

Pelosi vowed Wednesday morning in no uncertain terms to vanquish her opponents. And her allies believe they can pick off the lawmakers on the letter with promises of committee posts or other prime positions.

Asked about Rep. Seth Moulton’s suggestion Tuesday night that he is “100 percent confident” that she does not have the votes, Pelosi deadpanned: “I’m a busy person, but I will be the speaker of the House no matter what he said.”

But Pelosi’s critics argue that their numbers are growing, not shrinking. And they’re trying to encourage the freshmen — many of whom vowed on the campaign trail not to support Pelosi or promised to vote for “new leadership” — not to cave to the arm-twisting tactics Pelosi has perfected over three decades in Congress.

“They should not be asked to walk the plank on the first vote, to break a promise on their first vote,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, who ran against Pelosi for Democratic leader in 2016 and has framed the rebels’ bid to oust Pelosi as an effort to protect the party’s new majority. “When you win saying one thing, you can’t come down here and have the leadership ask you on your first vote to go back on your word.”

While the decisive floor vote on the next speaker isn’t until January, the lobbying campaign is in full force. Pelosi huddled with the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus and put out a press release promising to work with it on reforms to decentralize power to rank-and-file members. She also met with the Congressional Black Caucus, whose leader, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), recently floated the idea of having a CBC member challenge her or Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) for the No. 1 or No. 2 position.

“She’s been very active,” Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), a CBC member, said before Fudge revealed she might run for speaker. “I don’t know where [Pelosi] gets the energy to do all that she’s done. I’m curious as to who thinks that they can rival her. So I’ll be very eager to see who this shadow candidate is.”

The Pelosi debate also spilled into a Wednesday afternoon caucus meeting, when Democrats discussed the rules changes that Pelosi’s critics are seeking. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), who opposes Pelosi for speaker, stood to advocate for a proposal that would allow members to vote for whomever they want on the House floor for speaker.

Democrats are currently bound by caucus rules to vote for whomever wins the nomination for speaker. The nominee is decided behind closed doors in a secret ballot vote, and requires only a simple majority of members to clinch. It’s a much lower threshold than is needed on the House floor, where a small number of Democrats could conceivably block Pelosi.

Pulling out a copy of the Constitution, Perlmutter argued that such rules go against founding principles of the nation.

But Rep.-elect Katie Hill of California challenged Perlmutter on why the rule needs to be changed, since it’s not enforced anyway. She suggested that Perlmutter was raising the issue to make hay. “On behalf of the freshman class, I would like for all of us to move forward,” she said, according to sources in the room.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) then stood to tell the incoming freshmen — and the rest of the caucus — that it didn’t matter whom they support for speaker — Republicans will attack them in the next election regardless.

Pelosi’s critics, meanwhile, have been trying to buck up the incoming freshmen who are considering voting against Pelosi. Rep. Kathleen Rice, a New York Democrat who opposed the Californian on the House floor last year, seethed at the suggestion that incoming freshmen would get in trouble for not backing Pelosi on the House floor should she win the nomination in caucus, which is almost certain.

“The untenable situation that we are giving all of these new members is saying you either violate the caucus rule and they try to make it seem like there is a consequence to that — there isn’t… nothing happened to me — or you keep your campaign promise,” Rice told reporters.

Rice also complained about Pelosi allies trying to frame her bid to reclaim the gavel as an issue of women’s empowerment and gender. Pelosi allies have singled out newly elected women, especially, in their pitch to keep a woman in power, according to multiple sources familiar with their efforts.

“They should not be made to feel that they are ‘anti-women’ if they don’t want to vote for Nancy Pelosi,” Rice said. “I don’t think that’s fair to put all the incoming women in that position, where you’re telling them if you’re not going to support her, you’re basically betraying your gender. That’s just not true. … They should be treated with more respect.”

A challenge to Pelosi by Fudge would complicate the current leader’s pitch to members that they need to keep a woman in power. Fudge could also give lawmakers currently on the fence about Pelosi more comfort voting against her. Currently, rebels have offered no alternative to Pelosi, which has undercut their sway with some members.

The 66-year-old Fudge was first elected to Congress in 2008. She did stints as a local politician and prosecutor before coming to Capitol Hill. She is regarded in Congress as a tough and smart lawmaker.

While Fudge has been mentioned as potential speaker material, she supported fellow Ohioan Ryan for minority leader over Pelosi in 2016. She has also talked up South Carolina Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn, the highest-ranking African-American lawmaker in Congress, for the top post.

The entire Pelosi debate is clearly making some freshmen uncomfortable. Reps.-Elect Elissa Slotkin and Abigail Spanberger exited the caucus meeting together and bemoaned the constant questions and calls and texts about Pelosi. Jennifer Wexton, who beat Virginia Republican Barbara Comstock last week, repeatedly dodged questions from reporters about how she’d vote on Pelosi, only to later tweet her support for the leader.

“I look forward to talking to my colleagues in caucus about that,” she told reporters. “I know that Leader Pelosi has been the leader for many, many years and has accomplished many, many things.”

Rep.-elect Susan Wild of Pennsylvania — who said she’s been receiving a regular stream of texts, emails and phone calls from people regarding leadership elections — said it’s important that top Democrats lay out a plan of succession before members vote. Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn are all in their 70s and have been leading the caucus for more than 15 years.

“I think it‘s very important that there be a succession plan in place if [Pelosi] is elected so that we are grooming people for leadership who are as diverse as this incoming freshman class is,” Wild said.

Pelosi this week has been deploying all her political power to lobby incoming lawmakers for support — tapping outside groups with deep pockets and Democratic leaders from John Kerry and Al Gore to governors of their respective states to make her case.

On Wednesday, a swath of labor groups endorsed Pelosi, adding their names to a long list of women’s groups, progressive groups and other organizations that have joined Pelosi’s show-of-force pressure campaign. Her allies in Congress have been sending around letters to colleagues and disseminated press releases backing her as well.

Pelosi’s critics have been trying to persuade many incoming freshmen to stick to their campaign promises to vote for new leadership, a commitment they made after being attacked by Republicans as being “Pelosi puppets.” They hope to release the letter signed by those committed to voting against her on the floor, showing that they have the numbers to take Pelosi out and usher in an alternative.

But Pelosi allies have convinced several incoming freshmen not to sign on to the rebels’ letter, cautioning them that such antics could land them in trouble with leadership and start them off on the wrong foot.

Still, the margin for Pelosi could be close.

“I don’t think it’s a” slam dunk for Pelosi, said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). “The math is what it is. Nancy will do everything in her power to get there.”