A small group of House Democrats eager for new leadership made their first post-midterms salvo, aiming to complicate House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s bid for speaker.
The group wants to change caucus rules for electing a speaker nominee and sent a letter Thursday to the office of the Democratic caucus requesting a debate at their next meeting. Set for next Wednesday and Thursday, the meeting will include not only incumbent members of Congress but also incoming freshmen in town for orientation.
The letter, obtained by CNN, was signed by nine members — two fewer than a similar letter that was sent earlier this fall.
Because the letter has enough signatures, it is set to be on the agenda for the next meeting.
Eleven Pelosi critics discussed the letter when they joined a 90-minute conference call on Wednesday night to plan their next steps.
Rep. Filemon Vela, a Texas Democrat, told CNN there are at least 12 rock-solid no votes for Pelosi on the House floor. According to a CNN count, 10 additional incoming freshmen have said they would not support Pelosi for speaker, a number that could threaten her chances of getting 218 votes on the floor.
“There’s no question in my mind: If we get 229 (seats), she will never get 218” votes to become speaker, Vela said.
So far CNN projects Democrats have a 225-seat majority, with 10 races still undecided.
Pelosi allies and aides dispute Vela’s math and believe she will ultimately get the votes, especially since they see no viable alternative. In 2016, when Pelosi faced a challenge from Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, 63 members backed her challenger in the caucus vote, but almost all of them supported her on the House floor, even Ryan, as she was the nominee.
“Leader Pelosi is confident in her support among members and members-elect. Democrats don’t let Republicans choose their leaders. The election proved that the GOP attacks on Pelosi simply do not work,” said Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi.
Eleven Pelosi critics signed a similar letter in September pushing for a discussion on a more specific proposal. They suggested changing the caucus threshold to nominate a speaker from a simple majority to 218 votes — essentially ensuring the nominee from this month’s caucus election will get the requisite 218 votes when the full House votes in January.
The caucus, shortly before the October recess, had a spirited debate about the proposal, but with so many members wanting to keep the focus on the midterms, supporters agreed to withdraw the proposal at the time, though they signaled they would bring it up again after the election. They also wanted to get input from incoming freshmen.
The proposal is slightly different now. Rather than pushing for a 218 threshold, supporters simply want the idea of changing the rule to be brought up in general.
Along with Vela, signatories of the new letter were Reps. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, Kathleen Rice of New York, Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, Bill Foster of Illinois, Brian Higgins of New York, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Marcia Fudge of Ohio, and Tim Ryan of Ohio.
The two members who signed the first letter but didn’t sign the new one are Reps. Albio Sires of New Jersey and Robin Kelly of Illinois. Kelly told CNN last month she was planning to support Pelosi.
The change comes after multiple Democrats expressed interest in the idea of changing the caucus threshold after the last meeting, but some had reservations about a number as high as 218 — a drastic change from the existing rule of only needing a simple majority of the caucus.
Pelosi has repeatedly expressed confidence in the past week that she would become speaker and formally launched her bid Wednesday night in a letter to colleagues. She argues she’s the best person for the job because of her experience — she became the first female speaker when Democrats last held the majority — and negotiating skills.
Asked if she’s concerned about facing headwinds in her speaker bid, Pelosi told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Thursday that it’s part of the job.
“If I do, I mean, that’s politics. This is not a day at the beach,” she said. “This is politics. And here I am; we’ve delivered the victory because we had the best possible candidates. And we had the best possible candidates who inspired the grassroots. We owned the ground.”
“So, without getting into the — making a sausage around here — I feel very confident about where I am and I feel very encouraged by the overwhelming support in my caucus that we’ll go to the floor,” she added.