The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Nine Democrats want promises from Pelosi in exchange for speaker votes

After pushing off questions about Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi until after the election, many non-incumbent Democrats are still dodging questions about her. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)
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Nine centrist House Democrats are throwing another hurdle in the path of top party leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as she sprints toward the speaker’s gavel.

It’s not an unexpected obstacle: The nine are members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group formed to promote bipartisanship whose members agreed in September to condition their votes for any speaker candidate on support for a package of rules changes meant to improve how the House operates.

In a letter sent to Pelosi on Tuesday, the nine Democrats reiterated that their speaker votes are on the line and asked for a “written, public commitment” to their proposals by Friday.

“Our constituents and our democracy deserve better,” they wrote. “Put simply, they want us to govern again.”

The reforms range from making it easier to get amendment votes to ending the ability of a single disgruntled lawmaker to force a vote on ousting a sitting speaker. The centerpieces of the effort are mechanisms that would streamline the process of considering bills with broad bipartisan support on the House floor — at the price of eroding the power of the majority party’s leadership to control what gets put up for a vote.

Signing the letter are Reps. Josh Gottheimer (N.J.), Tom O’Halleran (Ariz.), Jim Costa (Calif.), Kurt Schrader (Ore.), Daniel Lipinski (Ill.), Darren Soto (Fla.), Stephanie Murphy (Fla.), Tom Suozzi (N.Y.) and Vicente Gonzalez (Tex.).

“The motivating purpose of all this is to get things done and to actually be able to work together and do things differently than we’ve been doing,” Gottheimer, a co-chairman of the caucus, said in an interview.

The Problem Solvers, whose efficacy has been in question, could represent more of a speed bump than a roadblock for Pelosi, who is facing a more serious uprising from a group of Democratic incumbents and incoming freshmen who are demanding new party leadership.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said Tuesday that she has already spoken positively about many of the reforms the Problem Solvers are pushing and that she has asked Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the incoming Rules Committee chairman, to work through possible changes to the House rules. Members of the incoming Democratic caucus are set to hear from McGovern about those proposals later this week, and it’s unclear whether Pelosi would formally endorse any or all them by the Friday deadline.

The Problem Solvers also face this fact: No other Democrat has yet announced a challenge to Pelosi.