Democrats Resoundingly Nominate Pelosi as Speaker, but Defections Signal Fight Ahead

WASHINGTON — Representative Nancy Pelosi overwhelmingly received the Democratic nomination on Wednesday to be speaker when the brand new Congress convenes in January, but the defection of 32 Democrats signaled that she might nonetheless face a divisive struggle to guide the House simply as the celebration assumes management.

The end result stored alive the specter of a messy intraparty feud and touched off what guarantees to be an intense interval of inner arm-twisting and cajoling by a frontrunner famend for each. At the identical time, it confirmed that regardless of a drumbeat of calls inside her caucus for brand new management, most Democrats help returning the 78-year-old Californian, the primary lady to be speaker, to the put up.

In a secret-ballot vote that dramatized rifts amongst Democrats solely weeks after midterm election victories handed them the bulk, Ms. Pelosi, working unopposed, received help from 203 Democrats. Beyond the 32 no votes, three ballots had been left clean.

“It’s a big victory,” she exulted as she made her solution to the Capitol after the outcomes had been introduced, brushing apart questions on her detractors and saying she felt “great.”

“I made a promise to the voters of my district that I would be a no — no under any circumstances,” said Representative-elect Max Rose of New York, adding that he was mystified that journalists continued to ask him whether he would change his position.

“What it speaks to, though, is a culture of politics in this town where people change their opinions,” Mr. Rose said. “So I’m not swaying with the wind, and I believe that many of us members came here to D.C. not for just one fight, but to change politics in this country.”

Just before the balloting began, Ms. Pelosi dispensed with one major obstacle that had threatened to strengthen her foes, securing the support of a small but critical bloc of Democrats after she agreed to change House rules to give rank-and-file members more influence in Congress.

After painstaking negotiations that stretched into the wee hours of Wednesday, Ms. Pelosi struck a deal with the Problem Solvers Caucus, which had withheld its support until it secured changes that its members said would break partisan gridlock by empowering lawmakers to forge bipartisan compromises.

The deal, the latest example of Ms. Pelosi’s quiet campaign to wear down opponents, came minutes before Democrats began formally nominating her for the post, and not long before the start of the vote testing the strength of her support.

“We have reached such an agreement with Leader Pelosi to help break the gridlock for the American people and will support her,” the Problem Solvers said in a statement. The deal won her the backing of eight members.

But Ms. Pelosi still faces determined opposition from others, including members of a group of 16 Democrats who signed a letter last week calling for new leadership. Their three leaders met with the minority leader before the vote on Wednesday and emerged declaring themselves unmoved.

Representative Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, an organizer of the group, said their request of Ms. Pelosi had always been: “Produce a meaningful plan for a leadership transition, as you promised in the summer, to allow a new generation of leadership to step forward.”

He said he was “disappointed to report that no agreement was reached in this initial meeting,” but “hopeful” of continuing talks with Ms. Pelosi.

With Democrats so far in control of 234 seats for the next Congress, Ms. Pelosi can afford to lose no more than 16 Democrats in the Jan. 3 roll call vote if all lawmakers are present and voting. That margin may change as additional races are called.

“None of us wants to have a floor fight, but voters have to be heard — we need to protect new members,” said Representative Kathleen Rice of New York, who attended the meeting along with Mr. Moulton and Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio. Several of the newly elected members won in competitive districts after promising not to support Ms. Pelosi for speaker, and they risk losing their seats if they go back on their word.

“We just elected the most diverse group of members that has ever been elected to the House in our history,” Ms. Rice added, “and they deserve to know when the leadership is going to change.”

Along with Ms. Pelosi, Democrats moved unanimously to return their other two top leaders, forgoing a vote and electing Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, 79, as the majority leader and Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, 78, as the whip. The results amounted to a resounding endorsement of a leadership team that has remained unchanged for more than a decade, a remarkable reality for a party whose new face is one of generational, racial and cultural transformation.

Still, the election did yield the promise of a new generation of leaders. Democrats chose Representative Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, the 46-year-old chief of the party’s House campaign committee, for the fourth-ranking position of assistant majority leader. And Representative Hakeem Jeffries, 48, of New York, who has been a leading voice in favor of generational change within the party, was elected chairman of the caucus, the No. 5 post.

Taken together, their elevation reflected a new sense of urgency among House Democrats after midterm election victories ushered in a disproportionately young class of freshmen eager to shake up the stilted ways of Washington and infuse a different set of voices into their party leadership.

Mr. Jeffries beat out an icon of the left, Representative Barbara Lee of California, who would have been the first black woman to be elected to that post. Ms. Lee, at 72, would also have been the fourth septuagenarian in the House Democratic leadership. The contest between two members of the Congressional Black Caucus split Democrats, with 123 supporting Mr. Jeffries, who represents Brooklyn and Queens, and 113 siding with Ms. Lee.

Ms. Lee said after the vote that she “absolutely” thought that sexism and ageism had been at work in the contest.

“That’s something women, especially women of color and African-American women, have to fight constantly, each and every day,” she said, adding, “We still have many glass ceilings to break.”

In impassioned speeches to an ornate hearing room full of Democrats on Wednesday afternoon before the vote, Ms. Pelosi’s allies argued that she was the best person to take on President Trump and outmaneuver Republican congressional leaders at a critical time for the country.

Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, who is in line to become chairman of the Intelligence Committee, became emotional as he made the case for Ms. Pelosi.

“Everything we care about is now at risk,” Mr. Schiff said, according to people in the room, mentioning families who lack health insurance, children separated from their parents and autoworkers who have lost their jobs. “Press characterized as the enemy of the people, the independence of our justice system being undermined. We have the most immoral, unprincipled and dangerous president in our history.”

Although she easily won the nomination, Ms. Pelosi’s victory carried notes of caution for a leader who has proclaimed unequivocally that she had the votes to become speaker. Those who have pressed for a new leader have long believed that after they showed she did not have such support, they could force a debate over an alternative candidate for speaker, a clear time limit on her tenure or a compromise in other leadership posts that would ensure a generational change at the top — all options Ms. Pelosi has refused to consider.

But Ms. Pelosi, who excels at legislative haggling and the corralling of a sometimes fractious group of Democrats, has demonstrated in the past that she has the capacity to win over dissenters with a mix of sweeteners and unspoken threats. The last time she faced opposition, when Mr. Ryan challenged her for minority leader in 2016, she lost 63 Democrats, almost twice the number that voted against her on Wednesday.

Her deal with the Problem Solvers Caucus appeared to ease her path considerably. Among the changes she agreed to were one that would make it easier for “consensus” bills — those that gain at least 290 co-sponsors — to get a vote on the House floor, and for bipartisan amendments, with at least 20 members of each party supporting them, to be considered in committees.

Another notable change would eliminate the ability of one member to essentially force a vote of no confidence in the speaker, a threat that has allowed the House Freedom Caucus, a group of ultraconservative Republicans, to handcuff the speaker, and ultimately led to the resignation of Speaker John A. Boehner in 2015. Instead, the move would have to be initiated by a party caucus or conference.

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