A rebellious faction of House Democrats released a letter Monday vowing to mount a coup and derail Nancy Pelosi’s bid to become House speaker, the first major warning shot from the group of detractors who are trying to stop the powerful leader’s bid in the new Democratic majority.
Sixteen Democrats have signed the letter, a number that complicates the math for Pelosi to reclaim the title of speaker, a position she previously held from 2007 to 2011. Pelosi, who was making calls to members from San Francisco on Monday, continues to project confidence that she has the votes to be elected speaker and she is still running unchallenged, though Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio has said she is considering entering the race.
“As we head toward the 116th Congress and reclaim our Democratic majority, we believe more strongly than ever that the time has come for new leadership,” the letter states.
Fudge was not among those signing the letter released Monday, but she is a longtime critic of Pelosi’s. Eleven incumbent Democrats signed: Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, Rep. Bill Foster of Illinois, Rep. Brian Higgins of New York, Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, Rep. Linda Sanchez of California, Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Rep. Filemon Vela of Texas.
Four incoming freshmen signed: Anthony Brindisi of New York, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Max Rose of New York and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey.
Ben McAdams of Utah, who ran against Republican Rep. Mia Love and whose race has not yet been projected by CNN, also signed.
In the new Congress, Democrats will hold at least 232 seats Republicans 200, with three undecided races – two of which Republicans are leading and one in which the Democrat is ahead – meaning the Democrats could hold 233 seats. To be elected speaker, a candidate needs a majority of members who vote for a specific person on the House floor, which amounts to 218 votes if no member skips the vote or votes “present.”
With McAdams uncertain to get a seat, 15 Democrats who signed the letter are definitely going to be members next year.
But at least two additional Democrats are also vowing to vote against her on the floor. That includes Conor Lamb, the Democrat of Pennsylvania, who did not sign the anti-Pelosi letter. Still, he vows to vote against her in next week’s caucus meeting and on the floor in January, according to his spokesman, Coleman Lamb.
Abigail Spanberger of Virginia told CNN on Friday she also would not sign “any letter” but said she would still vote against Pelosi on the floor.
“I’ve been very clear about my position and that remains the same,” she said after meeting with Pelosi. “I will be voting, but I will not be voting for her.”
It’s possible other incoming freshmen who are Pelosi critics could be”no” votes – especially ones like Democrat Jared Golden of Maine, who promised to vote against Pelosi during his hard-fought victory. A spokesman for Golden did not return a request for comment Monday.
What Fudge ultimately does is also unclear,and her office did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
While Pelosi is facing an increasingly perilous path, many Democrats believe she will ultimately win. That’s because there’s first a vote in the Democratic Caucus next week where a majority of House Democrats will nominate a candidate for speaker, a vote Pelosi will almost certainly win.
At that point, she will be the Democratic nominee for speaker, and most Democrats ultimately will fall in line with no other candidate formally chosen by their caucus. The critics’ letter, also, gives some wiggle room by saying these members are “committed” to voting for new leadership on the floor, rather than outright saying they won’t vote for Pelosi under any circumstance.
Some critics may ultimately cave.
As one senior Democratic aide put it, “If your strategy relies upon Nancy Pelosi giving up, you will lose every single time. Ninety-four percent of the caucus didn’t sign the letter.”