WASHINGTON — In an extraordinarily close vote, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was reelected speaker of the House Sunday, securing the gavel for the fourth time in her nearly 34-year career in Congress.
The House voted 216-209 for Pelosi over Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) with three members voting “present.” In a stark difference from previous elections, there were hardly any defections from either party, as members such as Reps. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) and Ron Kind (D-Wis.) broke tradition and voted for Pelosi.
There were still some defections from centrists in swing seats. Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) voted for Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.). Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) voted for the House Democratic Caucus chairman, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York. And Reps. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) and Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) voted “present.”
Notably, Pelosi did not face any attrition from left-wing members of her caucus. The expanded “Squad” of six progressives ― Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Cori Bush (Mo.) and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) ― all voted for Pelosi.
But Democrats keeping in line was far more necessary than in previous years, as the margin between Democrats and Republicans in this Congress will only be about five or six votes, depending on how a yet-to-be-called race shakes out in New York and how some vacancies are filled.
In fact, the margin was so tight that members who currently have been exposed to the coronavirus were still called to the Capitol on Sunday to vote. A special plexiglass-covered area was set up in the gallery of the House floor, where Reps. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) voted.
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), who tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday and has not yet received a negative test, voted from the House floor Sunday, telling reporters that her doctor had cleared her to travel.
Pelosi has indicated this will be her final stint as speaker. She made a deal at the start of the last Congress that she would only serve two more terms as speaker, and she seemed to confirm that the same deal was still in play right after the election this year.
But she hasn’t explicitly committed to leaving, and the California Democrat — who would have spent 20 years as the top Democrat in the House by then — could always change her mind.
The tight margin, however, may force her out, as some moderate Democrats may not want to run in 2022 with Pelosi also running for reelection. With the House breakdown so tight, Republicans could easily flip the House in a midterm election in any case.
And progressive members, such as Ocasio-Cortez, who has clashed with Pelosi over legislative priorities and committee seats, are eager to have a more left-leaning alternative to her speakership. Ocasio-Cortez told The Intercept in December that while she wanted Pelosi to step aside, at present, trying to push Pelosi out posed too great a risk of “something even worse” filling the void.
For now, Pelosi has secured another term, and the Democrats waiting in the wings will have to wait a while longer.
In his remarks nominating Pelosi for speaker, Jeffries, who is perhaps the favorite to take over for Pelosi, characterized this period in history as one “filled with trials and tribulations and a lot of pain and suffering and death.”
But he said Pelosi is equipped to lead the House at this time because she “believes that the House is fundamentally the institution best equipped to reflect the hopes, the dreams and the aspirations of everyday Americans.”
“History will record that today was a good day,” he said.
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