House Democrats overwhelmingly nominated Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday to be the next speaker – but she failed to defuse a rebellion within her ranks, setting the stage for a potential showdown on the chamber floor when the new Congress convenes in January.
The 203-32 vote represented a critical test of strength for the longtime Democratic leader, and proved she commands broad support from her caucus. But it also showed the size of task she faces to persuade the more than a dozen members who are calling for new leadership and whose votes Pelosi will need to win an absolute majority on the House floor at the start of next year.
The full House of Representatives, including Republicans, will elect a new speaker on 3 January. If Democrats win a final House race yet to be called after the midterm elections, and where their candidate is leading, they will hold 235 seats, meaning Pelosi could afford to lose 17 Democratic votes if all Republicans oppose her.
In brief remarks to the press as votes were being tabulated, Pelosi, who ran unopposed, said she was in “pretty good shape” and expressed confidence that she would overcome internal resistance to be the next speaker.
“I’m talking about scores of members of Congress who just gave me a vote – are giving me a vote of confidence,” Pelosi said. “That is where our focus is. Are there dissenters? Yes. But I expect to have a powerful vote as we go forward.”
In 2016, Pelosi lost 63 votes in the Democratic caucus election, nearly twice the number she lost on Wednesday. When it came to the floor vote, only four Democrats opposed her. This time could prove trickier after several new members vowed to vote against Pelosi as candidates.
Moments before the nominating contest began on Wednesday afternoon, Pelosi huddled with leading rebels, including congresswoman Kathleen Rice, of New York, and Congressmen Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Tim Ryan of Ohio, who challenged her for the post of minority leader in 2016.
“We met with Leader Pelosi and tried to engage her in a reasonable conversation about leadership transition. Unfortunately, our concerns were dismissed outright,” Rice said. “We remain united behind our goal of new leadership and we intend to vote against Leader Pelosi in Caucus and on the floor of the House.”
Moulton, who circulated a letter signed by 16 Democratic incumbents and new members, that calls for a change in leadership, called on Pelosi to develop a “plan for succession”.
“No one wants to see this civil conversation spill into a floor…