Progressive Caucus Won’t Say Whether It Supports Nancy Pelosi for Speaker

Nancy Pelosi is confident she will return to the Democratic majority as speaker, but the Progressive Caucus is not saying whether they support her bid.

TOPSHOT - House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) waits to speak during a midterm election night party hosted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee November 6, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Nancy Pelosi waits to speak during a midterm election night party hosted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Nov. 6, 2018, in Washington, D.C. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is confident she will return as speaker when the new Democratic majority takes over in the House, but the leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are not yet saying whether they will support her leadership bid.

When asked if the caucus supports Pelosi’s leadership bid in a press call on Wednesday, November 7, and if leaders will try to convince the incoming members who promised not to support her throughout the midterms to back her anyway, caucus co-chair Mark Pocan said he’s going to keep his options open and make sure he’s leveraging his power to assure progressives are well represented in leadership.

Dozens of Democratic candidates running in tight midterm races voiced their opposition to a Pelosi speakership. Though many of the candidates lost, a handful of incoming members, including Jason Crow of Colorado, Jahana Hayes of Connecticut and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, have called for a new generation of leadership. And Pelosi has little room for error: She needs a majority of the full House, or 218 votes, to win the speakership. On Thursday night, Politico reported that at least 10 Democrats had promised to oppose her on the floor, meaning that as final ballots are counted, Pelosi needs the majority to hold at least 228 members.

“And I would say ditto to that,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who serves as vice chair of the caucus. “I’m looking to run to be the next co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, and so I think it’s very important that we talk to our members and that we really make sure that our progressive priorities are going to be represented by our leadership on all levels.”

Pocan said that the caucus may have some sense of direction by next week. “I know this is the story you’ve all been waiting to write, but I’m going to wait until I get back and talk to members and have an idea of who’s running for what and what spots are open. And hopefully, by next week, we’ll be able to give you better, more specific answers,” he said.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus demurring on Pelosi is a turnabout from her first election as party leader, when she was the clear progressive favorite in a much more conservative caucus. The lack of vocal support comes as competing factions within the incoming caucus are jockeying for position.

Democratic leaders are hoping that the calls on the campaign trail for “new leadership” won’t be renewed on the House now that campaign season is over. On election night, Rep. Steny Hoyer, the minority whip and Pelosi’s No. 2, told The Intercept that he met just last week with incoming Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, and that he is comfortable that she will fit in well with the caucus.

“I had the opportunity to sit down with Alex, as she calls herself, last week, and I found her to be very reasonable, very bright, very able, and very willing to work together to accomplish objectives. And the democratic socialists party or group in New York” — referring to the New York chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America — “endorsed her one month before the campaign — before the election. It wasn’t as if she started with that. She says she’s a Democrat. That’s what she told me, and that’s what I believe: She’s a Democrat,” he told Nicholas Ballasy, who was on location for The Intercept. (DSA NYC endorsed Ocasio-Cortez two months before the primary.)

Pelosi, who has been a top House Democrat since 2003, including four years as speaker, has expressed her willingness to work with President Donald Trump when possible, saying in a press briefing on Wednesday that the party “will strive for bipartisanship” where it can. She has waved off questions about a potential leadership shakeup, saying she considers herself the best person to unify the party.  

So far, no one has stepped up to challenge Pelosi, despite a growing frustration within the Democratic Caucus with the trio of septuagenarian leaders. Rep. Cedric Richmond, the outgoing chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, recently insisted in a letter to his House Democratic colleagues that one of the CBC’s members should be in one of the top two leadership positions if there is a shakeup. (The letter was reported as coming from the Congressional Black Caucus itself, but it was a solo letter signed only by Richmond and not on behalf of the caucus as a whole.)

No one has yet challenged Pelosi or Hoyer. The caucus’s No. 3, Rep. Jim Clyburn, is facing a challenge from Rep. Diana Degette, D-Colo.

Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., has said she is making a bid for Crowley’s vacated No. 4 position. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries announced on Thursday that he will run for that same position. Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., had also launched a bid, but dropped out Thursday after her husband was indicted.

As the Congressional Progressive Caucus expands, so too does its influence on the party. The 116th Congress will be the most diverse one yet, and the caucus expects to welcome around a dozen new members. But there’s still the possibility that incoming progressives build their own coalition. In July, during a podcast interview, Ocasio-Cortez floated the idea of a “sub-caucus” of Democrats who would as a united bloc, like a progressive version of the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus.

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