Even as another lawmaker vowed to oppose Pelosi for speaker, her critics struggled to remain united.
The push to block Nancy Pelosi from the speakership is sputtering amid disagreements among her Democratic critics over their strategy and endgame, just days ahead of a critical caucus vote.
Some sources close to the group have privately accused one of its leaders, Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, of freelancing — publicly pushing a potential compromise with Pelosi that not all members support or were even aware was on the table.
The anti-Pelosi forces have been struggling to regain their footing in the past several days after the longtime Democratic leader picked off two of their members, including a potential challenger. And the conflict over strategy among the group’s dozen-plus members threatens to thwart their plan to deny Pelosi the gavel.
Still, the group got a much-needed boost on Monday: Rep.-elect Gil Cisneros of California, whose race was just called, has signed on to the group’s letter vowing to defeat Pelosi on the House floor.
If the rebels don’t put up a strong showing of opposition when members meet for a closed-door caucus vote on Wednesday, their effort could run aground well ahead of the official vote on the House floor on Jan. 3.
“I’m trying to replace the current leadership of the Democratic Party,” said Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon, one of the rebels who is not interested in a potential deal with Pelosi that Moulton floated Monday. “We need somebody who is a fresher face, that voters don’t identify with the old establishment, who is new, that shows Democrats have chosen a new direction … We don’t want her to be the face of the party.”
Another rebel source said of the group’s ringleaders: “They don’t know what they’re doing,” the source said, adding that their strategy has been disjointed from the start.
The latest trouble for the rebels started when Moulton issued a statement Monday signaling he was open to holding talks with Pelosi and leaving the gavel in her hands.
But multiple aides and lawmakers in the anti-Pelosi pack pushed back on Moulton’s statement, worrying it could make the rebels look like they’re already seeking an exit strategy.
Moulton suggested that replacing her top lieutenants, Reps. Steny Hoyer of Maryland or Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, with new leaders might win her the group’s support. Sources close to Moulton also hinted that Pelosi could find success if she were to promise to serve only one more term.
“Leader Pelosi wants to boil this down to a personal argument, but this is so much bigger than her,” Moulton said in the statement. “It’s about the entire, stagnant, 3-person leadership team and having a serious conversation about promoting leaders who reflect the future of our caucus.”
Soon after, Schrader — who has signed a letter supporting Hoyer for majority leader — said pushing Clyburn and Hoyer out of leadership would do nothing to win his support for Pelosi. Schrader went so far as to suggest that Moulton’s statement had been taken out of context by his staff.
“I’m not so sure Seth has said that,” Schrader said when asked about Moulton’s comments, first reported by The Washington Post. “He’s been pretty clear that it might have been his staff that mentioned all that. Because I know that he is not inclined to cut a deal with Pelosi to kill Hoyer and Clyburn.”
Schrader also poured cold water on the notion of backing Pelosi should she promise she’ll serve for only one term, an idea Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) also panned in a brief hallway interview with POLITICO two weeks ago.
“No — because in one Congress we’ll lose our majority. In one Congress, we’ll lose at least half of the members who flipped seats this time,” Schrader said, noting all the candidates who vowed to vote against her on the campaign trail. “She would need to step down within a year and have new elections at that time for us to have any chance of retaining the majority.”
The private spat over Moulton’s statement underscores the group’s struggle to remain united as Pelosi works feverishly behind the scenes to round up enough votes to win the speakership.
Sources inside the rebel camp say the group has not communicated effectively and is struggling because of a lack of organization.
Pelosi’s team has accused her critics of being sexist and espousing values that are contrary to the progressive energy that helped lead the party back to the majority. And while she leans on her powerful allies on the outside to make this case, her critics don’t have the same microphone or connections to push back on the accusations
Some signers of the letter calling for Pelosi’s ouster have also said their letter should not have zeroed in solely on Pelosi. They regret that it did not mention Hoyer and Clyburn, too.
But doing so would have no doubt divided the group, some of whose members have strong relationships with the No. 2 and No. 3 leaders.
House Democrats will meet on Wednesday for closed-door leadership elections at which Pelosi needs to win a simple majority. But to seize the gavel again, she’ll need to persuade half of the House — usually 218 votes — to back her on the floor in January.
Sources close to the anti-Pelosi group argue that they still have more than enough votes to block the California Democrat on the floor and are prepared to do so if she doesn’t compromise in some way. But there is vast disagreement among the rebels about what exactly they want from her.
Schrader’s suggestion that Pelosi serve for only one year has won some converts. According to another source in the group, some like the idea of a deal allowing Pelosi to stay on through 2019 and then holding new leadership elections a year from December.
But the source also noted that it would be difficult for some members to switch their votes even if such a deal were struck given how publicly they’ve opposed Pelosi.
The conflict over their endgame makes it that much harder to stick to a single strategy as Pelosi works on picking off individual members.
Rep. Brian Higgins of New York pulled his name from the anti-Pelosi letter after she agreed to work with him on two of his pet projects — infrastructure investment and a lower age for Medicare enrollment. Another Pelosi critic, Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio, decided against challenging Pelosi after she was promised a subcommittee chairmanship.
Some Pelosi critics will likely vote against her on the floor no matter what. Other members joined the opposition campaign in hopes of extracting their own concessions while others are open to supporting her if she will pledge only to serve a certain amount of time.
Pelosi is expected to easily win her caucus’ nomination for the speakership this week. But the rebels are hoping for a strong showing of their own, believing that if enough lawmakers voice opposition on the secret ballot, they might still be able to oust Pelosi — or at least secure significant changes to Democrats’ top-down leadership structure.
The informal goal, according to multiple sources, is to get more than 63 members to vote against Pelosi on the secret ballot. That is the number of members who supported Ryan when he challenged Pelosi after the 2016 election.
But even with momentum on her side, Pelosi’s path back to the speakership is not guaranteed. If current numbers hold, Pelosi can lose 16 Democrats on the House floor if all members are present and voting.
In addition to the 16 Democrats who signed on to the anti-Pelosi letter, at least three other incoming House freshmen have said they will vote against her.
Pelosi must also win the support of moderate Democrats in the Problem Solvers Caucus who are vowing to withhold their support unless she agrees to a package of changes to the way the House operates.
A source close to the group said several of its nine Democrats are prepared to vote against Pelosi on the House floor if she doesn’t acquiesce to their demands.
The aide said the group is willing to work with Pelosi on specifics but wants to see her agree publicly and in writing to a broader rules framework that would give members more power to bring up amendments and bills that have bipartisan backing.
Pelosi is set to meet with several of the members of the Problem Solvers Caucus on Tuesday night.