Rashida Tlaib, the Michigan Democrat who is on track to become the first Muslim woman elected to Congress, said Thursday she is unlikely to back Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) for Democratic leader.
Tlaib’s comments, made in a CNN interview two days after her primary win in Michigan’s 13th District, make her the latest progressive insurgent to come out against the longtime leader of House Democrats.
“Probably not,” Tlaib said when asked whether she plans to support Pelosi. “I think, for me, I need someone that again is connected with just the different levels of poverty that’s going on, the fact that there are structures and barriers for working families in my district that need to be dismantled.”
She did not offer any names of other candidates she would potentially throw her support behind, saying only she is seeking someone who understands her passion for working for the people and who will not support big banks, which she described as “troubling.”
Tlaib won the Democratic primary on Tuesday in the race to succeed former Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D) and faces no Republican opposition on the November ballot, making her the presumptive winner.
As the Democratic establishment grapples with a wave of anger among grass-root members over its response to President Trump’s policies and rhetoric, a growing chorus of progressive voices has called for generational change in the party’s congressional leadership, with this fall’s caucus vote for Democratic leader having become something of a litmus test for candidates in this year’s midterms.
Among the more than a dozen Democrats who have voiced reservations about voting for Pelosi are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, Danny O’Connor in Ohio and Rep. Conor Lamb (Pa.), who is viewed as having kicked off the trend in a campaign ad ahead of his special election win earlier this year.
The first step in the process of a electing a House speaker typically takes place in November, when each party holds its internal leadership elections. A candidate needs to secure the support of a majority of his or her fellow Democrats or Republicans to be elected party leader. Pelosi, who has led House Democrats for 15 years, could face an intraparty challenge similar to the one she encountered in 2011; that year, Pelosi won but nonetheless had to contend with a rebellion among 63 Democrats who backed Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) for leader.
The second step of the process is a floor vote in January. This step typically sees fewer defections: It has been nearly 100 years since an election for House speaker in which a candidate failed to secure the 218 votes necessary for election on the first ballot. The most dramatic show of opposition in recent years came in January 2015, when 25 House Republicans voted against John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) for speaker; the defections nonetheless were not enough to sink Boehner’s bid.
Even so, if Democrats retake the majority this year by only a few seats, Pelosi’s margin for error on the House floor come January will be narrow, and the votes of newcomers such as Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez could prove pivotal.
In Thursday’s CNN interview, Tlaib also fielded questions about a tweet earlier this year in which she said, “we’re changing the Democratic Party, getting rid of sellout Democrats, and making sure this is a party for and by the people!” Asked whether she would consider Pelosi among those “sellout Democrats,” Tlaib declined to say.
“I don’t know. All I can tell you is she doesn’t speak about the issues that are important to the families of the 13th Congressional District, and they are a priority for me,” she said.