The small group of House Democrats struggling to prevent Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi from becoming the next House speaker got a boost Monday when Gil Cisneros, a Democrat who just won a race in a conservative district in California, announced he would sign a letter pledging not to support Pelosi on the floor.
The announcement is a sign that even as Pelosi has strengthened her hold atop the House Democratic Caucus, she still has work to do to lock up enough support to become speaker — with little margin for error.
“The people of the 39th District made it clear, however, that they want to see real change in Washington, and I intend to follow through on my commitment to support new leadership,” Cisneros said in a statement.
The small group of anti-Pelosi detractors insist they will still be able to prevent her from becoming speaker during the January floor vote, despite several of her critics reversing course to back her bid, according to Democrats involved with the group’s efforts.
The lack of a formidable challenger to Pelosi has dogged her Democratic critics. After Rep. Marcia Fudge declined to run against Pelosi, Democratic sources who are part of the anti-Pelosi faction say their new strategy is this: Deny Pelosi the votes on the floor, hoping doing so would convince other candidates to step forward.
“The letter signers hoped to create the space for other candidates to run for Speaker in caucus, but now it looks like it will take a failed floor vote for others to announce,” according to a Democratic source involved in the effort.
Pelosi is facing her first test Wednesday: a private vote among Democratic House members to be nominated as speaker, and she is expected to win with a significant majority with no one running against her.
But the bigger test comes in January when Pelosi will face a floor vote where she’ll need a majority of the voting members of the chamber in order to become speaker. If all 435 members voted, that would be 218 votes, but if members vote “present” or do not vote, then the overall threshold Pelosi would need to win would be lowered.
So far around two dozen Democrats have said they will not vote for Pelosi, but many of those members have not specified whether they would vote against Pelosi in the caucus meeting or on the House floor, making an exact count of her detractors difficult to nail down.
Moreover, just 16 Democrats signed the letter last week saying they were “committed” to backing new leadership on the House floor, the same one Cisneros just endorsed. But since then, one Democrat on that letter is now backing Pelosi, another signaled he will likely support her on the floor and the members vary on how hard they plan to push to stop her.
On top of that, nine Democrats in the bipartisan group called the Problem Solvers Caucus have vowed to oppose her unless she backs several rules reforms designed to make it easier for rank-and-file members to advance bipartisan bills. Pelosi is expected to meet with that group Tuesday.
At the same time, a leader of the anti- Pelosi movement, Seth Moulton, said he wants to hold talks with Pelosi to discuss changes to the leadership team.
“Leader Pelosi wants to boil this down to a personal argument, but this is so much bigger than her,” Moulton said. “It’s about the entire, stagnant, three-person leadership team and having a serious conversation about promoting leaders who reflect the future of our caucus.”