Nancy Pelosi’s wooing of the incoming Democratic freshmen is in full force, with private meetings, deployment of Democratic bigwigs and lavish dinners with members-elect and their spouses.
Seeking to return to the speaker’s chair now that Democrats have won back the majority, Pelosi has launched a charm offensive for the incoming class of lawmakers in a bid to win its support, even though a number of them promised to vote against her when they were on the campaign trail.
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Pelosi secretly showed up at the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ freshman orientation session on Monday to try to ingratiate herself with about 20 members-elect in attendance. There, Pelosi played up her role creating the caucus as an original founding member of the group and touted her background working as a progressive community organizer in California.
On Tuesday afternoon, Pelosi held a reception for all Democrats at Osteria Morini, an Italian restaurant by the D.C. waterfront. On Wednesday, the members-elect will be introduced to their colleagues at a Democratic Caucus meeting, a lengthy process that will put them onstage with Pelosi. The California Democrat will follow that up with an appearance at the Congressional Black Caucus, a powerful faction inside the Democratic Caucus. Then, Pelosi will host a private dinner for members-elect and their spouses Wednesday evening in Statuary Hall, right off the House floor.
Democratic Party luminaries are calling members-elect on Pelosi’s behalf as well. Govs. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania have weighed in, as have former Vice President Al Gore and former Secretary of State and longtime Democratic Sen. John Kerry, according to Democratic aides.
And Pelosi has been meeting in private — and calling — these lawmakers-to-be, although her aides won’t provide a list of who she’s sat down with this week.
It’s all part of the “Pelosi for Speaker” blitz, with the California Democrat showing off every trick in her vast arsenal of persuasive tactics as she works to round up the votes she needs to win two upcoming votes: one inside the Democratic Caucus on Nov. 28, and the critical one on the House floor Jan. 3. While Pelosi will easily get a majority inside the Democratic Caucus, how she handles that vote is crucial. Letting some members and members-elect vote against her so they can say they opposed her, for example, would then free them up to back her on the floor. That will set the stage for the run-up to the Jan. 3 vote, where the stakes will be far higher.
Rep.-elect Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) — who was at the Progressive Caucus session on Tuesday — is supporting Pelosi’s speakership bid. Escobar said their relationship began this summer, when Pelosi visited El Paso and attended a fundraiser for her campaign. Escobar will be meeting one-on-one with Pelosi later in the week.
“She and I have spoken a lot about border issues, immigration issues, El Paso issues, trade,” Escobar said.
For Pelosi, the incoming freshman class — at least 33 strong right now, but still growing — is immensely important. Without the backing of an overwhelming majority of this class, she can’t be speaker.
Yet a number of Democratic candidates expressed reservations about Pelosi and the entire House Democratic leadership during the campaign. And they’ve repeatedly been pressed this week whether they would vote against her on the floor in the speaker roll call on Jan. 3, either by reporters, their future colleagues or party leaders.
Already four members-elect have declared publicly that they would oppose her both inside the Democratic Caucus on Nov. 28 and on the floor: Abigail Spanberger (Va.), Jason Crow (Colo.), Joe Cunningham (S.C.) and Max Rose (N.Y.).
“I am not voting for her — no if, ands or buts, under any circumstances,” Rose said during an appearance on Fox News.
That comes on top of eight Democratic incumbents who’ve already declared their opposition to Pelosi, even on the House floor, meaning a dozen no votes are out there already. With a Democratic margin in the next Congress of anywhere from 15 to 20 seats expected next year, Pelosi can’t afford to lose many more.
Pelosi has dispatched Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a colonel in the Air Force Reserve, to try to win over veterans who are currently against Pelosi or likely to vote against her, according to multiple Democratic sources. Lieu has been trying to persuade incoming freshmen Crow, Rose, Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey and Chissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania — all ex-military — to vote against Pelosi in caucus but for her on the House floor, according to sources familiar with those conversations.
Lieu, who is close with VoteVets — an organization that financially supported these candidates — is not twisting arms. But Lieu is trying to convince these incoming freshmen that they have options other than going all-out against Pelosi.
Pelosi’s efforts are paying off, although there remains a lot of work to be done.
Rep.-elect Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said she’s had two phone conversations with Pelosi, including a congratulatory call after she won her election, and she described those early interactions as “really positive.”
But Tlaib noted she hadn’t made a final decision on whether she’ll support Pelosi for speaker. “She’s willing to listen, and that’s what I ask for right now at this point,” Tlaib said.
Rep.-elect Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) said she met with Pelosi on Monday for an introductory discussion and intends to support her. “It’s hard to believe that the Affordable Care Act that has helped millions and millions of Americans would have passed without her,” Haaland said. “I thinks she’s a strong leader, and that’s what we need right now.”
Rep.-elect Angie Craig (D-Minn.), who knocked off GOP Rep. Jason Lewis, hasn’t yet committed to supporting Pelosi but said she intends to support the Democratic Caucus’ pick. That will be Pelosi.
“So far there’s one person running and I’m certainly voting for a Democrat, so there you go,” Craig said, noting that she had been in contact with Pelosi during the campaign because she was one of the party’s featured “Red-to-Blue” candidates.
Pelosi also showed her deftness in dealing with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the highly touted progressive star who knocked off Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) — once viewed as potential party leader — during her run for Congress.
Ocasio-Cortez turned up at a Tuesday morning protest by climate change activists right outside Pelosi’s office, with a posse of reporters trailing her. Pelosi — who has recommended that the House bring back the select committee on climate change she first created eight years ago — had already talked with Ocasio-Cortez about the issue and moved fast to defuse Tuesday’s protest.
“I have spoken with @NancyPelosi about how our commitments to climate change should take shape in the 116th Congress,” Ocasio-Cortez informed her 1 million-plus followers on Twitter. “Her office has responded quickly, and she has recommended the reinstatement of the Select Committee on Climate Change.”
Ocasio-Cortez described Pelosi as “profoundly focused” on a progressive agenda but said she’s waiting to make a final decision on whether to support the California Democrat for speaker. Ocasio-Cortez noted top progressive leaders in the House plan to meet with Pelosi on Thursday to discuss next year’s agenda. Ocasio-Cortez said she’d await the results of that meeting and is hoping for more details on the select committee, but also told reporters she’s “looking forward to us working together.”
While Pelosi’s future is by far the biggest issue facing the party as they get ready for 2019, she’s not the only one lobbying freshmen this week.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who has already locked down the votes to be majority leader next year, held a reception for group at the Library of Congress on Tuesday night, following by a “candlelight tour” of the Capitol. Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 House Democrat, and Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado — who are vying for majority whip — have also reached out to the new group of lawmakers. Clyburn is heavily favored to win that race.
But the battle for speaker remains the most dramatic contest. And despite her detractors, Pelosi has a loyal following built from years of legislating.
“They know a first-rate leader when they see one,” said Florida Rep.-elect Donna Shalala on Tuesday. The former secretary of the Health and Human Services Department and college president is a longtime Pelosi friend, and she portrayed backing Pelosi as a no-brainer.
“There are a 100,000 [people] in my district who have health care because of Nancy Pelosi,” Shalala said. “I have known her for a long time, and I intend to vote for her.”