Sixteen Democrats, in a letter released Monday, publicly “committed to voting for new leadership” in the race for House speaker, putting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in a precarious position as she tries to regain the post.
“We promised to change the status quo, and we intend to deliver on that promise,” the group of 11 incumbents and four members-elect wrote to fellow Democrats. Ben McAdams of Utah, who is running against Republican incumbent Rep. Mia Love, also signed the letter. That race remains a toss-up.
The letter – the culmination of an effort from a minority of Democrats to oust Pelosi from atop House Democratic leadership – puts a hard number on the Democrats who may be ready to buck their party. It is close to the margin the San Francisco Democrat needs to maintain to win back the gavel.
Depending on the results of the last uncalled House races, Pelosi will be able to lose just 14 to 19 Democratic votes on the House floor when Congress picks a new speaker in January.
Pelosi has said she remains confident that she has the support of the majority of her party to become speaker again and has suggested the effort to oust her is rooted partly in sexism. The members opposing Pelosi deny this; they argue they won the majority on the promise of “change.”
Dozens of other members and liberal advocacy organizations in recent days have come out to support Pelosi, outlining her fundraising and legislative prowess.
One of the key concerns of her supporters is that no one else in the Democratic caucus would be prepared to go toe-to-toe with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) or President Trump.
In a sign of possible weakness for the anti-Pelosi movement, the letter does not include any commitment to not vote “present.”
If Pelosi can persuade a handful of those Democrats who oppose her to vote “present” instead of voting against her, that would allow the rebellious members to keep their promise to not vote for Pelosi while also reducing the number of Democratic votes she needs to win the speakership.
Some of the members of the group, including Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), have told reporters they would not vote “present,” but the letter does not address the question.
Others signing the letter included Reps. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, Bill Foster of Illinois, Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, Kathleen Rice and Brian Higgins of New York, Tim Ryan of Ohio, Linda Sanchez of California, Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Filemon Vela of Texas; Reps.-elect Anthony Brindisi and Max Rose of New York, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey.
Previous media reports suggested the original letter had 17 signatures, and leaders of the faction confidently predicted last week that they would deliver even more than that.
But the letter may not include all of those opposed to Pelosi. Rep.-elect Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) did not sign the letter but said on CNN over the weekend that she will stick by her campaign promise to not vote for Pelosi. Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), who won a special election in a Trump district earlier this year, publicly promised to vote against Pelosi, too.
So far no one has announced plans to challenge Pelosi. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who did not sign the letter but has been in the anti-Pelosi camp, said last week that she’s considering it.
After meeting with Pelosi on Friday, Fudge said she hadn’t made a final decision yet.
“I am honored by and appreciate all the support from those who look to me as the next speaker of the House,” she said in a statement. “I appreciate the respect my colleagues and others have for me. They believe that I would be honest and open. They also know I love this institution and want to see it run well. Their words of encouragement tell me that people are ready to move in a new direction.”
House Democrats are due to vote in a secret ballot on Nov. 28 on who they plan to nominate for speaker. Pelosi is expected to win that vote handily. A final vote will take place on the House floor when the new Congress convenes in January.