Rep.-elect Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), a contemporary of Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi but one of the newest additions to her caucus, has a message for incoming freshmen considering who should lead them.
Pelosi, she says, is the right person for a tough job.
Pelosi has earned the right to the speakership, Shalala said, at least for now.
“I would look at what the job is, and it’s a little bit of herding cats, and it’s a little bit about keeping a Democratic Party that’s full of lots of different points of view. And I think that Nancy has demonstrated that time and time again,” she said in an interview alongside four other newly elected female House Democrats on ABC News’s “This Week.” “She has a backbone. She’ll stand up to a president.”
Pelosi, of California, served as House speaker from 2007 to 2011 and faces a challenge in her bid to return in that post, fueled in part by resistance from incoming Democratic freshmen who pledged during their campaigns in conservative-leaning districts not to support her. One of them, Rep.-elect Abigail Spanberger (Va.), said she will honor the commitment. “If we are going to turn a page and bring civility back to the political discussions, we need to change the people who are directing that conversation,” Spanberger said, appearing with Shalala on ABC.
Congressional leadership elections are typically insider affairs. But Pelosi’s fate has grabbed national attention, with celebrities, outside Democratic luminaries, labor unions and grass-roots activists weighing in on her behalf. Democrats will have at least 233 seats in the new Congress, meaning Pelosi can afford to lose no more than 15 Democratic votes, assuming no Republicans back her. So far, 20 Democrats oppose her, and 69 aren’t saying what they intend to do when the full House votes on the matter Jan. 3.
At the moment, however, Pelosi has no declared Democratic competition. A small group working to oust her has been unable to recruit a challenger, though Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio), a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, is weighing a run.
Some prominent members of that caucus support Pelosi. “She has probably the most diverse leadership team in the history of any legislative body as far as the Congress is concerned,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the incoming House Oversight Committee chairman and a CBC member, said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.” He predicted, “She’ll be fine.”
Pelosi is hustling to ensure that outcome. She spent much of Thursday and Friday holding one-on-one meetings with lawmakers in her leadership office. Her advisers closed the week signaling confidence. And there is evidence that the effort is paying off. Rep.-elect Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) said in an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” that after meeting with the Democratic leader, she is “actually fundamentally leaning towards voting for her.”
“There are a lot of moving parts in leadership and many decisions that need to be made,” Houlahan said. “So I’m working hard to understand what all of my options are, how I can best serve my constituency.”