With Democrats set to take control of the House in January after their midterm victory this week, the question now turns to who will take the speaker’s gavel -- and if any of the rank-and-file will put their name forward to oppose House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi, D-Calif., said this week that she was confident that she would be speaker again.
“I don’t think anyone deserves anything. It’s not about what you have done, it’s what you can do. What you’ve done in the past speaks to your credentials, but it’s about what you can do, and I think I’m the best person to go forward, to unify, to negotiate,” she said.
“I’m a good negotiator, as anyone can see in terms of how we’ve won every negotiation so far,” she added.
But there have been long-standing fears among some Democrats that Pelosi hurts House Democrats in some competitive races, and could also be holding back its next generation of leaders. Republicans, certainly, see a Pelosi speakership as beneficial to them. President Trump last week said that Republicans would help Pelosi if she didn’t have enough support from Democrats. It is unclear whether the president was being sincere.
“If they give her a hard time, perhaps we will add some Republican votes. She has earned this great honor!” he tweeted.
Pelosi was speaker between 2007-11, but in 2016, she fended off a leadership challenge from Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio. During an appearance on Fox News’ “Cavuto,” Ryan said, “I don’t think this is a done deal yet” in terms of Pelosi becoming speaker again. Ryan also says he “hopes somebody does” challenge Pelosi.
“We’re getting a lot of phone calls and a lot of us are talking, I think it’s important,” he said. “As I said, I don’t have any intention of doing this at this point.”
To get the gavel, Pelosi will first need to pick up a majority of the Democratic caucus in internal leadership elections, then go on to win an absolute majority of the House.
But Pelosi faces 14 Representatives-elect who have said they would oppose Pelosi, in addition to eight incumbent Democrats who have reservations about her returning to the leadership. If Democrats end up with 233 seats in the House, that means Pelosi may only have 211 votes -- short of the 218 she will need to be elected speaker. That number could be lower if not all members vote.
The pledges suggest Pelosi has an uphill climb, one that she could overcome with persuasive arguments or some good committee assignments. But those who have said they would vote against Pelosi could face political heat if they break that promise. The Republican National Committee has said it will be watching for which Democrats change their tune on voting for Pelosi.
But for Pelosi to be opposed, opponents need a viable alternative candidate, and so far that isn’t happening -- although one still has time to emerge.
“It actually would help if somebody would challenge her,” a former House leadership aide told The Hill.
An opponent “would be good for her and make her stronger coming out of the internal race rather than her being anointed Speaker,” a House Democratic chief of staff told the outlet. “It would put progressives at bay and help give moderates some cover. They can say: ‘I voted against her.’”
Should a challenger emerge, they will likely face significant criticism from Pelosi’s allies, and possibly from her as well. In August, Pelosi suggested that some of the calls for her to step aside were sexist.
“I think some of it is a little bit on the sexist side—although I wouldn’t normally say that,” Pelosi said in the interview with Rolling Stone.
“Except it’s like, really? Has anyone asked whatshisname, the one who’s the head of the Senate?” she said, apparently briefly forgetting the name of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.,
“McConnell,” she corrected. “I mean he’s got the lowest numbers of anybody in the world. Have you ever gone up to him and said, ‘How much longer do you think you’ll stay in this job?’… Nobody ever went up to Harry Reid and said that. Nobody ever says that to anybody except a woman. But it’s a thing.”
Fox News' Chad Pergram and Brooke Singman contributed to this report.