Washington – Connecticut’s all-Democratic delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives have supported Rep. Nancy Pelosi as their leader in the past, but now some of those loyalists are giving that support a second thought.
Victorious House Democrats returned to Washington D.C. this week and were immediately embroiled an interparty fight over whether Pelosi should lead them as House Speaker in the next Congress.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-2nd District, is clearly in Pelosi’s corner, drumming up votes for her among fellow House Democrats.
“I’m talking to members,” DeLauro said.
DeLauro has, for several Congresses, been appointed by Pelosi as co-chair of the Democratic Steering Committee, a powerful panel that, among other things, decides who will be the top Democrat on each of the committees in the U.S. House. Because Democrats now hold the majority in the House, those panels will be controlled by the party in the next Congress.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, however, is not yet ready to declare his support.
“I haven’t had a chance to talk to (Pelosi) yet,” Courtney said. “I want to talk to her and hear what she says.”
Publicly, Pelosi, 78, has shown little concern about the faction organizing against her. Privately, she’s been working the phones trying to lock down enough support.
Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, said he and more than 60 other members of a centrist group of Democrats called the New Democrat Coalition, which includes Courtney and retiring Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, also want to hear from Pelosi about her agenda for the next Congress before they make a decision on whom they will support.
“I haven’t made any commitments on any level,” of House leadership, Himes said.
Himes hopes to chair the House Intelligence Committee in the next Congress. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., is the highest-ranking Democrat on that committee, which is expected to reopen the investigation into Russian election interference during the 2016 campaign and conduct other probes of the Trump administration next year.
However, the intelligence panel is a special congressional committee whose membership is term limited and Schiff would need a waiver – from the House Speaker — to stay on the panel and become its chairman.
Meanwhile, the newest member of Connecticut’s delegation has said conflicting things about Pelosi.
“I would not vote for Nancy Pelosi,” said Congresswoman-elect Jahana Hayes, who will represent Connecticut’s 5th District in the next Congress, during a debate this summer.
But now, after Pelosi donated to Hayes’ campaign and her lieutenant, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., traveled to Connecticut to campaign for Hayes, the freshman lawmaker says she’s undecided.
Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, a Pelosi loyalist and former member of her leadership team, continues in his strong support for her, for Hoyer, and for the No. 3 person in the Democratic House leadership, Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.
“There is a lot of angst about the leadership,” Larson said. “Had we lost, all three of them would be gone. But we won.”
Larson also said “when you look at Nancy Pelosi, she comes from a state (California) that sends more Democrats to Congress than any other.”
“And who is running against her?” he asked. “So far she’s unopposed.”
Larson was part of a group of House Democrats who lobbied to hold House leadership elections after the Thanksgiving break, giving Pelosi more time to shore up her support and for other Democratic leaders to make their cases to members of the caucus.
In contrast, House Republicans held their leadership elections on Wednesday, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was chosen as their leader. Also, in the Senate on Wednesday, both Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, and Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., won enough votes to keep their posts next year.
A former Speaker of the House who was toppled when House Democrats lost their majority in 2010, Pelosi was seen as too progressive by conservative Democrats and by Republicans who demonized her as a “San Francisco liberal.”
Now Pelosi is also being challenged from the left, and the rebellion is composed of both sitting House members and from members of the incoming class of diverse new Democrats, like Hayes, who are looking for younger, different leadership of their party.
But, as Larson pointed out, the anti-Pelosi insurgency hasn’t yet rallied around anyone else as an alternative.
While House Democratic leadership elections won’t take place until after Thanksgiving, Democrats will fight over the rules for those elections this week.
As it stands now, to become the next Speaker of the House, Pelosi would first have to win a majority of votes in the Democratic caucus. Then, in a second election, she would need to win a majority of votes among U.S. House members as a whole. She could not afford many Democratic defections since no Republican member is expected to vote for her.
The rebellious House Democrats want to raise the threshold of the vote in the Democratic caucus to 218 — the same number needed for the floor — but said they are open to a lower number. They gathered enough signatures last week to trigger a discussion about their proposal.
On Tuesday, Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, one of the leaders of the Democratic rebellion, said he is “100 percent confident” the group has enough commitments to block Pelosi from being elected speaker on the floor.
On Wednesday, a defiant Pelosi told reporters, “I will be Speaker of the House no matter what Seth Moulton says.”