WASHINGTON — House Democrats on Wednesday nominated Nancy Pelosi as speaker, paving the way for her to be elected to the top post in January.
Pelosi, who previously served as the first woman speaker from 2007 to 2011, prevailed in the closed-door caucus vote as Democrats held their leadership elections for next year despite a long-simmering insurgency against her bid — a rebellion that appeared to crumble in the days leading up to the vote.
"As I say, our diversity is our strength but our unity is our power. We will use that power again in a unifying way for our country," she told reporters.
The 78-year-old California Democrat had faced threats from all corners of her caucus — from moderates, from progressives, from members-elect and from younger lawmakers hoping for a generational change. But leading up to Wednesday's vote, following lobbying from Pelosi herself, individuals from each of these factions who had either previously expressed opposition to her or signaled skepticism came out publicly in support.
Despite the threat from rebellious lawmakers, Pelosi ran unopposed during the election in which lawmakers voted by secret ballot. She just needed a simple majority on Wednesday in order to win and wasn't expected to have a problem crossing that threshold.
In early January, when the lower chamber holds the formal speaker vote on the floor, Pelosi will need a majority of the whole House present and voting. Any opposition to her bid on Wednesday may not weigh heavily in the end on whether she wins back the gavel next year. Sixty-three House Democrats in 2016 voted against Pelosi during the closed-door caucus vote, for example, voting instead for Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, but only four members ultimately voted against her on the floor just a few weeks later.
Members of the Caucus, as well as members-elect, began meeting behind closed doors beginning around 10 a.m. and were expected to continue the elections into the evening to vote on the rest of their slate of leadership positions.
Republicans have villainized Pelosi over the last decade, spending millions of dollars on ads featuring her during the midterm campaigns. President Donald Trump frequently made Pelosi a target of attacks at campaign rallies, though he has also expressed respect for her. "We actually have a great relationship," he said at a White House press conference one day after the elections. "I give her a great deal of credit for what she's done and what she's accomplished."
For her part, Pelosi publicly dismissed the bubbling insurgency threat earlier this month and expressed confidence that she would prevail.
"It doesn't matter to me whether they support me," she said at a press conference. "What matters is that they support a Democratic agenda to make progress for America's working families and they all spoke out beautifully for the people: health care, health care, health care — like a jackhammer. That's what's important."
The unrest seemed to come to a head shortly before Thanksgiving, with Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, weighing a challenge against her. Fudge, however, ultimately decided to back down — instead accepting a Pelosi offer to lead a voting rights panel.
Fudge added that Pelosi "assured me that the most loyal voting bloc in the Democratic party, Black women, will have a seat at the decision-making table" and pledged to support Pelosi for speaker.
Pelosi had also faced a threat to her leadership from other parts of the party. A number of members-elect had said during their midterm races that they wanted change in Washington and either said or signaled that they would oppose Pelosi for speaker. One of them, Rep.-elect Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., announced Tuesday that she decided to support Pelosi.
"I came to DC with an open mind," she said. "...I have seen media reports of other candidates but to date, the only person that has declared their intentions, spoke to me about their vision and asked for my vote is Nancy Pelosi."
Another faction within the caucus — nine moderates who are members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus — have also suggested that they could oppose Pelosi if she doesn't back three of their proposed rules changes that would weaken the power of party leaders by allowing bipartisan groups of lawmakers to move legislation directly to the House floor, circumventing the Speaker and committee chairmen.
Pelosi has met with the group several times, including on Tuesday. House Democratic leaders have already agreed to the proposal that would bring bills with 290 co-sponsors to the floor, among other proposed rules changes from the group, a senior Democratic aide said Monday.
Pelosi has been able to pick away, however, at part of the rebellion. Last week, progressive Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., 29, who defeated Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley in their Democratic primary this year, announced that she would support Pelosi, tweeting, "All the challenges to Leader Pelosi are coming from her right, in an apparent effort to make the party even more conservative and bent toward corporate interests. Hard pass. So long as Leader Pelosi remains the most progressive candidate for Speaker, she can count on my support."
The caucus was also voting Wednesday for their next majority leader, majority whip, assistant Democratic leader, vice chair, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair as well as the chair and co-chairs of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the current minority whip, is running unopposed for majority leader, who determines the House floor schedule. Assistant Democratic leader James Clyburn of South Carolina is also running unopposed for majority whip. The current chairman of the DCCC, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., who played a critical role in Democrats' wave election this year, is running unopposed for assistant Democratic leader.
Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y, beat Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., to serve as next chair of the House Democratic Caucus. Jeffries — like Lee, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus — has been eyed as a possible future Democratic leader and the outcome of the election was viewed as a test of whether he would be able to climb the leadership ladder.