Another Democrat said Thursday he would vote against Rep. Nancy Pelosi in a decisive tally early next year for House speaker, underscoring that the longtime leader still has work to do to reclaim the gavel.
Pelosi, who previously served as speaker from 2007 to 2011, easily won her party’s nomination Wednesday to serve as speaker in the next Congress. But 35 Democrats either voted against the California congresswoman or left their ballot blank in the secret-ballot vote.
Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), who voted against Pelosi in 2017 but had remained mum on how he plans to vote next year, said Thursday that he will not support her in January and is unlikely to change his mind.
“If she’s interested in peeling off the 16 or 17 that she needs right now, she’s probably better off burning up the phone lines with other members,” Kind said. “We still have a month to go, and I still think she has a math problem.”
Despite opposition from some members, Pelosi’s allies remained confident that the math would work out in her favor Jan. 3. It is customary for lawmakers to respect the wishes of their party colleagues in the floor vote, especially when the rival is the leader of the opposition party, and Pelosi has a range of political goodies to trade for support over the coming weeks, including committee assignments and other legislative favors.
“Nancy Pelosi is going to be elected speaker,” Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), the incoming majority leader, said Thursday. Disaffected members, he added, should bring their concerns to leadership and try to find a resolution: “Every week brings a new group that says, ‘Well, I’ve got an understanding on this, that or the other.’ I hope that will happen, and I think it will.”
Democrats are on track to win 234 or 235 seats. In the floor vote, Pelosi will need to win an absolute majority of members voting for an individual. Absences or abstentions could lower the victory threshold from 218.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), a leader of the faction opposing Pelosi, said he expected the “vast majority” of the 35 who voted against her Wednesday to oppose her on the floor. But he acknowledged that Pelosi has weeks to win support and that “nothing’s certain.”
“All we’re saying now is everybody needs to vote their district, vote their conscience and let the chips fall where they may,” he said.
According to a Washington Post review of lawmakers’ statements, 23 Democrats have made firm statements saying they will oppose Pelosi. Another 32 have been equivocal or not made any statement at all.
Kind said that while he has “great admiration” for Pelosi, voters in his district, which Donald Trump won by five percentage points in the 2016 presidential election, are “looking for change in both parties.”
He added that Democrats should also think about the message they are sending to the dozens of newly elected members of their caucus.
“Do they really have to stick around here for 30, 40 years before they have a chance at a gavel? That’s really the message we’re sending them today,” he said.
Kind notably was not among the lawmakers who signed a letter this month vowing to oppose Pelosi, in a sign that she may face resistance from some members of her party who have not openly voiced their views.
House Democrats closed out their leadership elections Thursday, with Rep. Cheri Bustos (Ill.) prevailing over two other candidates to become chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s campaign arm.
The decision to elevate Bustos, a moderate lawmaker representing a district that voted for Trump, breaks with the traditional practice in both parties of choosing a member in a safe district to lead fundraising and strategy efforts. Bustos easily won reelection this month, but Republicans say that she could be vulnerable in a more favorable election cycle.
Among Pelosi’s avowed opponents are roughly a dozen freshmen who pledged to oppose her during their campaigns. Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, Bustos said they should not renege — while also predicting a Pelosi victory.
“My advice to anybody, whatever the issue is, is to keep your word,” she said. “Whatever you said at home, you keep your word. I’m confident that Nancy Pelosi will be the next speaker of the House, and I’m also confident that these new members are going to be honest and truthful with their constituents.”
Bustos rose to prominence within the Democratic caucus in recent years by serving as a co-chair of the party’s Policy and Communications Committee, which developed political messaging ahead of the midterms. She also emerged as an unofficial spokeswoman for Democratic efforts to reach out to Trump voters, particularly in Midwestern districts like her own.
Bustos beat out two challengers from Washington state, Reps. Suzan DelBene and Denny Heck, in the Thursday vote. Bustos won 117 votes to Heck’s 83 and DelBene’s 32, winning the necessary majority by a single vote. A fourth candidate, Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.), dropped out of the race Wednesday due to illness.
Also Thursday, Democrats picked leaders for the Policy and Communications Committee. Rep. David N. Cicilline (R.I.) won his unopposed race for the newly created position of chairman. Three others were selected for the role of co-chairmen, Reps. Matthew Cartwright (Pa.), Debbie Dingell (Mich.) and Ted Lieu (Calif.).
Those picks represent a diverse mix reflecting a caucus that includes more women and minorities than ever. Cicilline is openly gay, and Lieu is Asian American, while Cartwright and Dingell are moderates who have called for Democrats to do more to win white working-class voters.
Cartwright, who won in a district Trump carried by 10 percentage points, said he would be focused on “incumbent protection” to make sure newly elected members return for the next Congress. He declined to comment on the freshmen who broke with Pelosi but said his general advice to candidates is, “Don’t lose your nerve.”
“There was not a day that went by that I didn’t turn on the TV and saw an ad with myself and Nancy Pelosi and [Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.)] looking like we were best buddies,” he said. “I didn’t care. We kept message discipline in my campaign, and we ignored that stuff.”
Elise Viebeck and J.M. Rieger contributed to this report.