Consider this scenario: Democrats win the 23 seats they need to retake the House majority. The party gathers for a vote for its next speaker. And Nancy Pelosi can’t secure a majority of the votes.
Before I go any further, let me make very clear that this isn’t a likely scenario. The most likely scenario if Democrats win is that Pelosi, unchallenged by any serious contender, claims the speakership for a second time.
But neither is the scenario I lay out above absolutely impossible either. Pelosi had steadily lost support among her caucus – admittedly in votes for minority leader, not speaker – over the past few years, and already there are a number of potential members of Congress who have pledged not to support her. (After the 2016 election, Pelosi beat Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan 134-63 – a solid win but also the high watermark in terms of public opposition to her among House Democrats).
As Politico’s Elena Schneider and Heather Caygle detailed in a terrific story earlier this month, there are nearly two dozen credible Democratic challengers who have already said they would not, if elected, vote for Pelosi as Speaker. They are following the lead of Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb, who won a special election earlier this year in southwestern Pennsylvania by, at least in part, finding ways to distance himself from the national party.
And now Pelosi finds herself on the opposite side of the Congressional Black Caucus on the controversial comments that Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California, made regarding how to treat members of the Trump administration when encountered in public. Pelosi gently rebuked Waters via Twitter: “as we go forward, we must conduct elections in a way that achieves unity from sea to shining sea,” she said. (Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was far more full-throated in his condemnation of Waters.)
CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond, D-Louisiana, argued in a series of tweets on Tuesday that Waters had nothing to apologize for. “In exercising her constitutional right to freedom of speech at a recent rally, Congresswoman Waters did not, as she has made clear, encourage violence, like President Trump has been doing since the election,” Richmond said. “She, instead, encouraged Americans to exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly by letting President Trump and members of his administration know that separating young immigrant children from their parents is not who we are as a country.”
That’s not a direct rebuke of Pelosi, obviously, but it does put Pelosi not in lockstep with the CBC. And to win the speakership – assuming Democrats can win the House – Pelosi needs a united CBC behind her.
The Point: A betting man or woman still puts their money on Pelosi. She has been a titan within the party for decades and, particularly in the last 10 years, she has been unchallenged in that role. But could someone emerge if Pelosi appears to be struggling to secure a majority? Always remember: Politics abhors a vacuum.