Sixteen Democrats have signed onto a letter opposing Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for Speaker.
The letter, spearheaded by Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), had been anticipated for some time and ended up one signature less than the 17 names that had been expected.
Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who had initially signed and is weighing a challenge to Pelosi, is not a signatory.
The letter argues that midterm voters handed Democrats the House majority with expectations of the party shaking up business-as-usual in Washington — starting with the party leader who’s been at the helm for 15 years. Maintaining control of the chamber, the insurgents say, will require keeping that vow.
“Democrats ran and won on a message of change,” they wrote. “Our majority came on the backs of candidates who said that they would support new leadership because voters in hard-won districts, and across the country, want to see real change in Washington.
“We promised to change the status quo and we intend to deliver on that promise.”
Only two women are among the sixteen names on the letter. Allies of Pelosi have dismissed the opposition to her as coming from mostly men in the conference, and have coined the hashtag #fivewhiteguys on social media as a knock to the insurgent Democrats.
The number of signatories could shrink some more.
Utah Democrat Ben McAdams, the mayor of Salt Lake City who’s challenging Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah), is one of the letter’s endorsers. But the race remains too close to call, and the most recent tally has Love in front.
Anthony Brindisi, a New York Democrat who is also on the letter, is in another uncalled race, against GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney (N.Y.). Brindisi leads by several thousand votes as absentee ballots continue to be counted.
Pelosi’s allies were quick to respond to Monday’s letter, saying the insurgents are dreaming if their plan hinges on Pelosi dropping out of the Speaker race.
“If your strategy relies upon Nancy Pelosi giving up, you will lose every single time,” said a senior Democratic aide. “Ninety-four percent of the Caucus didn’t sign this letter.”
The insurgents have been scrambling since even before the midterms to recruit more anti-Pelosi Democrats behind their cause. The letter, which has been circulating for almost two weeks, is the latest front in that campaign. It’s designed to demonstrate that Pelosi would lose the Speaker election on the House floor in January, making her candidacy futile even if she secures the Democratic nomination within her caucus later this month.
The insurgents have much more leverage on the House floor, where the Speaker must win the support of a majority of the entire chamber, versus in the caucus, where a simple majority of Democrats choose the party’s nominee.
The other lawmakers on the letter are Democratic Reps. Tim Ryan (Ohio), Seth Moulton (Mass.), Linda Sánchez (Calif.), Ed Perlmutter (Colo.), Kurt Schrader (Ore.), Filemon Vela (Texas), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Bill Foster (Ill.), Brian Higgins (N.Y.) and Stephen Lynch (Mass.).
Aside from McAdams and Brindisi, three other incoming freshman also signed the letter: Rep.-elects Jeff Van Drew (N.J.), Joe Cunningham (S.C.) and Max Rose (N.Y.).
The detractors praised Pelosi as “an historic figure,” one “whose leadership has been instrumental to some of our party’s most important legislative achievements.” Still, they say they’re “committed” to opposing her in both the caucus, and on the House floor in January.
Pelosi, who has led the Democrats since 2003, has widespread support within her caucus and is expected to clinch the nomination easily. Thus far, no one has stepped up to challenge her for the gavel, which she held between 2007 and 2011 as the country’s first female Speaker.
Fudge, though, is weighing such a challenge. She and Pelosi met on Friday in Pelosi’s office but neither lawmaker revealed the details of the conversation. Fudge said she’ll finalize her decision after Thanksgiving.
Fudge’s decision to remove her name from the letter is likely not an indication that she no longer supports the insurgency. Ryan, who challenged Pelosi unsuccessfully in 2016, had similarly removed his name from an anti-Pelosi letter leading up to his announced run — an effort to lend some breathing room as he mulled his decision.
Fudge’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
It’s unclear if the anti-Pelosi lawmakers have the numbers to topple the longtime Democratic leader. Democrats picked up at least 37 seats in the midterms, but four races have yet to be called, so it remains to be seen how high the number will rise.
If Democrats win all of the outstanding contests, Pelosi could lose 18 votes within her party and still clinch the gavel (assuming all Republicans oppose her). If Democrats lose all of those uncalled races, she could afford to lose 14.
Aside from the Democrats on the letter, a handful of incoming freshman have pledged to oppose Pelosi in the Speaker vote on the floor. Some of them have not ruled out the option of voting “present,” however, which would lower the number of votes Pelosi would need, since abstentions are not counted as voting members in tallying a majority.
The Democrats’ internal caucus votes are scheduled for Nov. 28.
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
November 19th, 2018