WASHINGTON (AP) — A defiant Nancy Pelosi challenged maverick Democrats Wednesday to produce a rival who could win enough votes to prevent her from becoming the House’s a new speaker.
“Come on in, the water’s warm,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told a reporter about her message to rebellious colleagues.
A handful of Democrats, arguing it’s time for a fresh leadership team, say unhappy lawmakers are signing a letter pledging to vote against Pelosi when the full chamber elects the next speaker on Jan. 3. Some said they already have sufficient support to block her.
“We’ve got enough to ensure that she cannot become speaker,” said Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.
But Pelosi is one of her party’s most productive fundraisers, energetic campaigners and respected legislative tacticians, giving her wide support that will make her difficult to topple.
“I will be speaker,” she said Wednesday of her prospects.
The Democratic majority will be narrow enough that fewer than 20 Democrats voting for a different candidate would be able to block her, assuming all Republicans oppose her as expected.
No challenger to Pelosi has emerged but disgruntled Democrats say there would be plenty of candidates should her bid be derailed. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, a leading Pelosi opponent, suggested two possibilities: Reps. Marcia Fudge of Ohio and California’s Karen Bass, both members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Fudge told reporters she has signed the rebels’ letter and said colleagues have urged her to run for speaker.
“We’re not going to allow the Republicans to have a speaker, so certainly there will be someone that will step up” if Pelosi steps aside, Fudge said. “And those discussions are going on now.”
Even so, some divisions were emerging among the Pelosi opponents.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., a leader of the group, told reporters that keeping Pelosi as speaker but making other changes in the party’s leadership was “a possibility.” No. 2 Democratic leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and No. 3 leader Jim Clyburn, D-Md., have served under Pelosi for years.
“It’s about change,” Perlmutter said. “She’s not the goal. Maybe for some.”
Democrats seeking to block Pelosi argue it’s time to give younger Democrats a chance to rise to high-level posts. They also argue that Republicans have demonized her in campaign ads that have made it hard for Democrats to be elected in closely contested, moderate districts. A core of incumbent Democrats oppose Pelosi and some newly elected lawmakers pledged during their campaigns to do the same.
Pelosi has been Democratic leader since 2003 and was speaker — the first woman to hold the job — when Democrats had the House majority from 2007 through 2010. Hoyer has been No. 2 House Democrat since 2003, while Clyburn has been No. 3 since 2007. All are in their late 70s.
Pelosi is lobbying hard, meeting with individuals and groups of Democrats and getting boosts from outside allies. Wednesday morning alone, her office released letters of support from the Communications Workers of America and United Steelworkers, two labor groups, and another from Rep. A. Donald McEachin, D-Va., a black caucus member.
There is little doubt Pelosi will win a majority of votes when Democrats meet privately after Thanksgiving to select their nominee for speaker. She will then have until Jan. 3 to round up enough support to prevail.
“The bishop of the church will call, the top fundraiser will call, President Obama will call,” Schrader said of the tools Pelosi could use to win over Democrats. “I would never underestimate Nancy Pelosi.”
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