WASHINGTON — Nancy Pelosi can’t be stopped.
In a private vote on Wednesday, House Democrats reelected Pelosi as speaker for the upcoming 116th Congress, which begins early next year. The vote was 203 to 32, with three blanks and one absent. She wasn’t expected to face any trouble within the confines of the Democratic caucus, especially given that no other Democrat publicly stepped up to challenge her in time for Wednesday’s vote.
“It was so inspiring to hear my colleagues place my name and nomination, once again, for speaker of the House. How moving it was,” Pelosi told reporters as her colleagues held their vote.
In recent weeks, more than a dozen moderate Democrats declared their opposition to Pelosi’s bid for the speakership. The anti-Pelosi crew includes vocal detractors such as Reps. Seth Moulton (D-MA), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Filemon Vela (D-TX) and Tim Ryan (D-OH), who challenged Pelosi in 2016 and fell far short of ousting her as leader.
“We need a brand change,” Ryan told Rolling Stone in mid-November, adding that he wants a less coastal Democratic Party and lamenting the dearth of House Democratic leaders from the heartland. “It’s a pretty large swath of the country to completely ignore,” he says. “How in God’s name do we expect to win the House, have a significant majority, hold it, have a party brand that’s connecting to people, and have nobody in the Midwest at all?”
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), seen in some circles as a future successor to Pelosi, took a step in that direction on Wednesday afternoon when he was elected Democratic caucus chairman, the fifth-ranking position in the party, defeating progressive icon Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA).
The anti-Pelosi effort was doomed when it failed to recruit a viable challenger. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, briefly emerged as an alternative, only to reverse course and accept the chairmanship of an election reform subcommittee that Pelosi announced she intended to revive. Pelosi’s win in the caucus-wide vote was all but guaranteed when no other challenger emerged.
The next and final step on the path to the speakership is a full vote of the entire House of Representatives in early January. Pelosi can afford to lose, as of this writing, 17 votes from members of her own party and still come out victorious. That is the exact number of House Democrats who signed the November 19th anti-Pelosi letter — and one of those, Brian Higgins, has since recanted and said he would support her. Yet one of those opponents, Rep. Kathleen Rice, told The Atlantic‘s Elaina Plott on Wednesday that after meeting with Pelosi she would maintain her opposition. “Unfortunately, our concerns were dismissed outright,” Rice said. “We remain united behind our goal of new leadership and intend to vote against Leader Pelosi in Caucus and on the Floor of the House.”
The way things look right now, Pelosi is well on her way to reclaiming the speakership.