Now that the Democrats have won control of the US House of Representatives, they need to choose a leader and that means solving one of their toughest puzzles: Nancy Pelosi.
A contest among the Democrats for the House’s top job of speaker will play out over the next 10 weeks or so, with the formidable 78-year-old San Francisco liberal at the centre.
Pelosi, currently minority leader, has been clear that she wants to be speaker of the House again.
She has some critics, but no challenger to her has emerged, and two senior Democrats said yesterday they would seek other leadership jobs.
Pelosi made history from 2007 to 2011 as the first woman speaker, a powerful position second in the line of emergency presidential succession after the vice president.
An unexpected intervention in the speaker’s race came yesterday from Republican President Donald Trump, who tweeted that Pelosi deserved the job, even though he frequently assails her and other Democrats as obstructions to his agenda.
“In all fairness, Nancy Pelosi deserves to be chosen Speaker of the House by the Democrats,” he said on Twitter. “If they give her a hard time, perhaps we will add some Republican votes. She has earned this great honour!”
Trump’s intent with the tweet was unclear but he also telephoned Pelosi on Tuesday evening to congratulate her on the Democrats’ win.
“We appreciate the President’s enthusiasm for a House Democratic Majority,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill tweeted in response.
Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said he told Pelosi he is willing to make a deal on young illegal immigrants known as Dreamers and work on infrastructure spending, but he also wants to build a wall on the southern border.
During the congressional campaigns that just ended, dozens of Democratic House candidates called for new leadership, registering indirect dissatisfaction with Pelosi, who has become a punching bag for Republicans.
But not all the Democrats urging new leadership won election to the House.
With some races still undecided, Democrats were headed for a gain of more than 30 seats, beyond the 23 they needed to claim their first majority in the 435-member House in eight years.
Their first order of business as the House majority will be to decide whether to put the speaker’s gavel back in Pelosi’s hands.
“Leader Pelosi is very confident about her support in the caucus and among our members-elect,” said Pelosi’s spokesman Hammill.
At a victory celebration in Washington on Tuesday, Pelosi said a Democratic House “will work for solutions that bring us together because we have all had enough of division.”
She was flanked by No 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer and No 3 House Democrat James Clyburn in a sign that the three could aim to lead the chamber in the new Congress that convenes in early January.
Hoyer plans to run for majority leader, a spokeswoman said yesterday; that would keep him in the number 2 position.
Clyburn, who had previously said he would not challenge Pelosi but would consider running for speaker if Pelosi could not find the votes, yesterday told McClatchy news service that he will run for House majority whip.
For 16 years, Pelosi has steered the House Democrats, first as minority leader, then speaker, then minority leader again after the 2011 Republican takeover of the chamber.
Her path back to the top job is clear. First, she must capture a majority of Democrats in a behind-closed-doors November 28 party leadership election.
No certain rival to Pelosi has emerged but there are possible challengers.
Two years ago, in the internal party race for minority leader, 63 Democrats voted for Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio, but Pelosi received 134 votes.
If Pelosi prevails at the party level, she would become the Democrats’ candidate for speaker in a public roll call vote in early January by all 435 House members from both parties.
With Pelosi 78 years old, Clyburn also 78, and Hoyer 79, none of them represents the kind of “new blood” that some younger Democrats seek.
A handful of more junior lawmakers are in the leadership frame, as well. One is Louisiana’s Cedric Richmond, 45, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, which recently sent a letter to lawmakers saying that if there is a leadership change, it wanted one of the top two Democratic leadership spots, a Democratic aide said. Clyburn is also a caucus member.
Ben Ray Lujan, 46, of New Mexico is the current chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which coordinates House Democrats’ election efforts.
Before the election, two Democrats said they wanted to run for assistant majority leader — Cheri Bustos of Illinois, and David Cicilline of Rhode Island.
The current House speaker is Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who is retiring from Congress.
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