Pelosi confident about becoming speaker, as others seek leadership posts

(CNN) – House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was confident Wednesday she would be elected speaker, one day after Democrats won back the House majority since losing it eight years ago.

Pelosi, the heavy favorite for the speakership despite dissension within the caucus, also pushed back on President Donald Trump’s tweet saying that Pelosi deserved to be speaker.

“I don’t think anybody deserves anything,” she said at a news conference. “What you have done in the past speaks to your credentials, but it’s about what you can do, and I think I’m the best person to go forward to unify, to negotiate.”

Pelosi pointed to past deals she’s negotiated in Congress, saying “the only one we didn’t win wasn’t a negotiation — it was the GOP tax scam.”

“So, I think that my case is being the best person for how we go forward,” she said. “And I’m not going to answer any questions on that subject.”

Pelosi is expected to win the speaker nomination during the caucus elections later this month, when she’ll only need support from a majority of Democratic members. But in January, she must shore up support from most of the caucus to win the full House vote on the floor, which traditionally has a threshold of 218 votes but could be won with fewer.

So far, CNN has projected Democrats have a 223-seat majority, with 12 races still uncalled.

While many Democrats laud her leadership, a small but vocal contingency of members say it’s time for a new generation of leaders, and several have already pledged to vote against her for speaker.

Rep. Filemon Vela, a Texas Democrat, was on a 90-minute conference call with about 11 Pelosi detractors Wednesday night. Afterward, Vela told CNN there are at least 12 rock-solid no votes for Pelosi on the floor.

“There’s no question in my mind: If we get 229 (seats), she will never get 218” votes to become speaker, Vela said.

Pelosi allies and aides dispute Vela’s math and believe she will ultimately get the votes — especially since there’s no viable alternative. The candidate who unsuccessfully ran against her in 2016, Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, told CNN on Tuesday that he’s not planning on running for speaker, though he hasn’t fully shut the door. Ryan told CNN other candidates may emerge.

Vela said discussions among Pelosi critics would continue over the next several days to figure out a way forward.

Pelosi officially announced her bid in a letter to colleagues on Wednesday, reiterating that she’d prioritize health care, the economy and oversight.

“My vision for the next two years is to restore the House to the role it should have as a strong and independent voice for the American people, and maximize the ability and the creativity of our entire Caucus. In that spirit, I am writing to respectfully request your support for Speaker, and do so with confidence and humility. Thank you for your consideration,” the letter said.

Pelosi allies say Tuesday night’s results prove attacks against her are ineffective, and she could still become speaker even without the support of the minority who oppose her. She holds powerful leverage as a fundraising juggernaut and key decider in committee assignments.

To help assuage concerns in the caucus, Pelosi also pitched herself before the election as a “transitional” leader who would operate as a short-term speaker to help navigate the caucus as it decided its next leaders — though it’s unclear how long she plans to hold the reins.

The highest-ranking female elected official in American history, Pelosi previously served as speaker for two terms in 2007-2011. During that time, she helped shepherd through the economic stimulus package, the banking overhaul bill, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Affordable Care Act to passage.

Even in the minority, Pelosi has remained the leader of House Democrats and the most powerful woman in Congress. She largely kept the caucus together, with practically no defections on major votes.

After she praised the number of women who were elected Tuesday night, Pelosi was reminded by a reporter that some of those women have said they won’t support her.

“What I say to those women: Congratulations on your election,” she said. “Welcome.”

Others run to reclaim past posts

Meanwhile, Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House as minority leader, announced Wednesday he’ll run for majority leader during the caucus elections, set for later this month.”As Majority Leader in the 116th Congress, I will continue to engage with Members across the Caucus to ensure your voices are heard as we pursue our agenda,” he wrote in a letter to colleagues.

Hoyer has been in Congress for nearly 38 years, longer than any other current Democratic leader in the House. Of that time, he’s been the second-highest ranking Democrat after Pelosi for 16 years and in lower-level Democratic leadership positions even longer.

Hoyer has also been active in outlining his vision for a Democratic-controlled House.

Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn, the No. 3 ranked Democrat and highest ranked African-American member in the House, announced he’ll run for majority whip.

“As the only member of leadership from a red state and a largely rural district, I am uniquely positioned to help bring our caucus together, to marry strong progressive values with pragmatic solutions that can cross our ideological, geographic and cultural divides,” wrote the congressman from South Carolina.

Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn all held the top three posts during the last Democratic majority, a fact that has some Democrats flustered and calling for a new generation of leadership.

As of Wednesday, Clyburn was the only one with a challenger. Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado announced she’s also running for majority whip.

Some of the younger rising stars in the caucus are running for lower-level leadership posts. With Pelosi, Hoyer, and Clyburn all aiming to move up one spot in the majority leadership ranks, that leaves open the assistant Democratic leader spot, currently held by Clyburn and set to become the No. 4 ranked position under the majority.

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, chairman of the House Democratic campaign arm that helped win back the majority, announced Wednesday he’s running for assistant Democratic leader. Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Cheri Bustos of Illinois are also running for that post.

The No. 5 ranked position is chair of the Democratic caucus, currently being competed for by Reps. Barbara Lee and Linda Sanchez — both of California. Rep. Pete Aguilar of California and Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts are vying for vice chair.

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