‘The Water’s Warm:’ Pelosi Swimming in Rumors of Speaker Challenger

WASHINGTON (CN) – Considered the inevitable choice to take the House speaker’s gavel now that Democrats have taken control of the chamber, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi faces a challenge within her party on the heels of last week’s midterm elections.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meets with reporters in Washington on Nov. 7, 2018, the day after Democrats took back the House in midterm elections with a surge of fresh new candidates and an outpouring of voter enthusiasm ending eight years of Republican control. Pelosi said she’s confident she will win enough support to be elected speaker of the House next year and that she is the best person for the job. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“I think there are a number of people who heard the American people call for change, and what you basically have is the establishment surrounding our current leadership,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat who opposes Pelosi. “The American people want change and we’re going to try to give it to them.”

Though Ryan himself has been in Congress since 2003, he noted that many Democrats in the incoming freshman class made campaign promises not to support Pelosi as speaker. They should not “be asked to walk the plank on their first vote” in Washington, Ryan said.

Without offering an exact number, Ryan told reporters Wednesday there are a “significant” number of Democrats who are joining him in standing against Pelosi. Ryan did not say whether it would be enough to prevent Pelosi from getting the votes necessary in the caucus’ leadership elections next week, however, nor did he say who the anti-Pelosi contingent of the party thinks should run for speaker in her stead.

No alternative candidate has come forward publicly, but Ryan said the right show of force could coax out a challenger. To that end, a letter from several Democrats expressing their disapproval of Pelosi is expected to come out ahead of the party’s leadership elections.

Pelosi meanwhile has been publicly confident that she will get the job. The California Democrat told reporters Wednesday morning while leaving a meeting of the Democratic caucus that she feels “very good” about her chances.

“Come on in, the water’s warm,” Pelosi joked, when asked about potential challengers in the race.

Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY., arrives at orientation for new members of Congress on Nov. 13, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Ryan, the Ohio Democrat, made an unsuccessful bid to unseat Pelosi as minority leader in 2016 but said he has no such plans this time around.

“Ultimately you want a candidate, but at the same time you have the process that’s in place and we’re going to move forward with what we’re doing,” Ryan told reporters. “There’s a significant number of people who have committed and promised that they would not vote for the current leadership and so we need to start having that family conversation about what direction we move in.”

Rep. Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat whom Ryan floated as a possible opponent to Pelosi, said the next speaker should bring diversity to the party leadership, given the attention the party has placed on the issue and the racial makeup of its primary voting bloc.

“I would say this: As we tout diversity in this party, there’s no diversity in our leadership,” Fudge told reporters. “As we talk about the base of the party – black and brown – there are no black and brown people in our leadership.”

Fudge added: ”I mean, if we’re going to talk about it, if we’re going to talk the talk, we need to walk the walk.”

But other lawmakers, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, have thrown their support behind Pelosi for speaker. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., told reporters Pelosi has experience navigating the Democratic caucus and has delivered legislative victories for the party in the past.

“I’ve been abundantly clear – I support Nancy Pelosi a million percent,” Cummings told reporters Wednesday. “We need somebody who has been battle-tested, and she has been. When you think about the tremendous victories on the part of the Democratic party, a lot of us ran with the No. 1 issue being health care and the Affordable Care Act. Ladies and gentlemen, there would be no Affordable Care Act if it were not for Nancy Pelosi.”

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat who is making a bid for the House Democratic caucus chair, told reporters Wednesday he is confident Pelosi has the votes. That sentiment was also shared by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat who downplayed the importance of the race for the speaker’s gavel.

“The fact of the matter is that we’re focused on the policies we’re going to pursue,” Hoyer told reporters. “Everybody likes to talk about personalities, but much more important to the American people are the policies we pursue, whether it’s on assuring that they’re going to have health care, assuring that their Social Security and Medicare is going to be protected, assuring them that they’re going to have opportunities for jobs and good wages. That’s what the American people really care about. The personalities will take care of themselves, but the policies is what we’re going to really focus on.”

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