Another Democrat who has threatened to vote on the House floor against Nancy Pelosi for speaker seemed to soften that stance on Sunday, giving the California Democrat the appearance of momentum before a key test vote on Wednesday.
Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), one of 16 lawmakers or members-elect who had signed a letter promising to vote against Pelosi on the floor, said on Sunday he would back her over a Republican during the critical Jan. 3 vote.
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Pelosi allies have been insisting that a vote against her on the floor, where she needs a majority of the House to win the gavel, would effectively be supporting a Republican for speaker — though technically members can vote for a Democrat other than the nominee.
Lynch appeared to concur with that line of thinking rather than push back on the suggestion that other Pelosi critics have deemed a “false choice” and tried to combat privately for weeks.
“If it becomes as a choice between a Republican and Nancy Pelosi, I’ll obviously support Nancy Pelosi,” Lynch told a local TV station. “But I do think we risk losing the majority in the House — we risk having Trump elected for another four years — if the Democrats don’t offer a new direction in the Democratic Party.”
Lynch’s remarks come just three days before House Democrats are set to nominate Pelosi for speaker during a closed-door, secret-ballot vote. Pelosi needs to garner only half the Democratic Caucus to win the nomination, a threshold she is expected to clear easily.
The roll call will be a test for the more crucial Jan. 3 public vote on the floor. In 2016, 63 Democrats voted against Pelosi for minority leader in caucus and only four did so on the floor.
Pelosi appeared to be locking down support before the Wednesday vote. Just before Thanksgiving, she persuaded Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), another Pelosi critic intent on her ouster, to recant his promise to vote against her on the floor. Higgins ended up endorsing Pelosi after she vowed to support health care and infrastructure proposals that he champions.
Pelosi also won the endorsement of Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who briefly considered challenging Pelosi and who was a central player in the rebellion brewing against the lawmaker who has led the Democrats for 16 years. Pelosi had offered to make Fudge the chairwoman of the House Administration Subcommittee on Elections.
Pelosi is also working to mollify a less vocal group of critics who could nonetheless cause problems for her on the floor. She will meet Monday night with the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group that has threatened to vote against her if she doesn’t give rank-and-file members more power. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the incoming chairman of the House Rules Committee, will also be in attendance.
The group fired a warning shot Friday after meeting with Pelosi the week before but receiving no promise of reforms from the minority leader.
“We will only vote for a speaker candidate who supports ‘Break the Gridlock’ rules changes,” the group of nine Democrats said in a statement Friday, later adding: “Although we are at a stalemate in our discussions, and therefore cannot support Leader Pelosi for speaker at this time, we will keep working with the leader and others in hope of reaching consensus on specific rules changes for more bipartisan, common sense governing.”
Meanwhile, the number of rebels trying to oust Pelosi and vowing they cannot be bought off appears to be dwindling. Lynch’s suggestion that he would vote for Pelosi over a Republican on the House floor suggests he is ready to back her if she wins the nomination.
His office did not reply to a request for comment or for clarification, though he did appear unhappy about that decision during his local TV interview on Sunday.
“If the face of our party is Nancy Pelosi, with all due respect, I think we lose the House again,” Lynch said, arguing that Democrats needed a more centrist approach that would appeal to voters in the Midwest and blue-collar areas.
Besides, dozens of Democratic candidates ran on a promise to elect new leadership in the party — and many of them won on Election Day. Should these incoming freshmen vote for Pelosi, Republicans would certainly highlight their support in campaign ads that decry them as hypocrites.
A Democratic staffer close to the rebels pushed back on the notion that Lynch’s comments were a dramatic change in position or that the group would support a Republican for speaker.
“There’s simply no scenario in which a Republican could be elected speaker, we would not vote for them — it’s a false choice,” the staffer said Sunday.
“The goal is to demonstrate that Leader Pelosi does not have the votes to be elected speaker on the House floor and encourage an alternative Democratic candidate to step forward,” the staffer continued. “The only way Republicans factor into this equation is if Leader Pelosi convinces a few of them to vote for her.”
Pelosi, meanwhile, picked up another supporter over the weekend — incoming freshman Sharice Davids.
Davids knocked off GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder, scoring a key pickup for Democrats in Kansas.
During the campaign, Davids was targeted with Republican ads linking her to Pelosi but didn’t commit to voting for or against the California Democrat at the time.
“The best way to move forward as we face unprecedented threats to our healthcare access and to our democracy is to unite behind the person who is clearly going to become the next speaker,” Davids said in a statement over the weekend announcing that she was backing Pelosi.
Higgins, the New York Democrat, said in an interview on Friday that he was in contact with “two to three” other members of the rebel group who vowed publicly to vote against Pelosi but who were considering trying to cut a deal with her now. He said he encouraged those members to change their positions sooner rather than later if they were going to do so, given the likelihood that Pelosi will become speaker.
“There’s a reality we have to deal with and the window is closing,” Higgins said. “Unless you have leverage, you can’t use leverage.”