Pelosi’s re­turn as speaker of the House not a given

The Sentinel-Record - - HOT SPRINGS/FYI - LISA MASCARO

WASH­ING­TON — Vil­i­fied by Repub­li­cans on the cam­paign trail, Nancy Pelosi emerged as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s pre­ferred choice to be­come speaker of the House, ar­riv­ing on Capi­tol Hill with an air of in­evitabil­ity af­ter lead­ing her party back to the ma­jor­ity.

The Demo­cratic leader is po­si­tioned to re­turn to the speaker’s of­fice af­ter Democrats took back the House in Tues­day’s midterm elec­tions. Al­ready the only woman to have held the job, she would also be­come one of the few law­mak­ers to re­claim the gavel af­ter los­ing it.

Pelosi is a “smart woman,” Trump said Wed­nes­day dur­ing a nearly 90-minute news con­fer­ence at the White House, and some­one with whom he hopes to en­gage in “beau­ti­ful bi­par­ti­san­ship” and deal-mak­ing. It was a role re­ver­sal from just days ago, when he warned vot­ers of her “rad­i­cal” agenda.

She “de­served” to be­come speaker again af­ter win­ning the House, Trump said Wed­nes­day, adding that he looked for­ward to do­ing “a tremen­dous amount of leg­is­la­tion” once power in Congress is di­vided be­tween a Demo­cratic House and Repub­li­can Se­nate.

At the Capi­tol, in the stately Ray­burn Room — named af­ter the last speaker who re­turned to the of­fice — Pelosi was asked if she was con­fi­dent she would be­come speaker when the new Congress con­venes in Jan­uary. She said sim­ply: “Yes, I am.”

Yet as­cent of the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat is nowhere near guar­an­teed. Many younger House Democrats, in­clud­ing some of the newly elected, have pledged to vote against her. They are re­luc­tant to shout the name “Pelosi” when the cam­eras zoom in dur­ing the first roll call of Congress, fear­ful of the at­tack ads that will be launched against them.

As Trump and Pelosi ex­tended over­tures across Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue, they also shad­ow­boxed around the new dy­namic cre­ated by the House’s abil­ity to probe the pres­i­dent’s busi­ness deal­ings and his ad­min­is­tra­tion. The pres­i­dent warned Democrats not to push too hard with their in­ves­ti­ga­tions, or he would smack back even harder; Pelosi vowed that they would con­duct re­spon­si­ble over­sight.

The two have rea­sons to co­op­er­ate. Both want to score leg­isla­tive wins to bring to vot­ers ahead of the 2020 elec­tion. They talked on elec­tion night about do­ing an in­fra­struc­ture pack­age and low­er­ing health care costs, par­tic­u­larly around pre­scrip­tion drugs, pri­or­i­ties for both sides.

“There’s plenty of op­por­tu­nity,” Pelosi said, not­ing she worked pro­duc­tively with Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush dur­ing her last turn as speaker. She also ref­er­enced Demo­cratic Rep. Max­ine Wa­ters of Cal­i­for­nia, an­other fa­vorite Trump vil­lain, who is set to lead the pow­er­ful Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee.

“Democrats come to this ma­jor­ity with the re­spon­si­bil­ity not to Democrats — it’s not to Democrats or Repub­li­cans — it’s to the United States of Amer­ica,” she said. “The fact is we’d like to work to­gether.”

Pelosi is likely to win first-round vot­ing later this month to be­come leader, when she needs half of House Democrats to sup­port her. But be­com­ing speaker re­quires a ma­jor­ity of the full House, 218 votes, and her slim ma­jor­ity — now at 222 — leaves her lit­tle cush­ion.

It’s not just her. Pelosi heads a trio of sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian lead­ers, with Demo­cratic Whip Steny Hoyer and As­sis­tant Leader Jim Cly­burn, who have held power since the last time Democrats took back the House ma­jor­ity, in 2006. Each is poised to move up a slot.

Democrats who want new lead­er­ship have been whis­per­ing about it for weeks, and on Wed­nes­day, sev­eral Pelosi op­po­nents an­nounced their in­tent to run for the top posts.

An­other Demo­crat, Rep. Di­ana DeGette of Col­orado, also jumped into the whip’s race.

Both can­di­da­cies are a di­rect af­front to Cly­burn, the high­est-rank­ing African-Amer­i­can in Congress, who is in line to be­come the whip. He an­nounced his bid Wed­nes­day, pledg­ing to “make Amer­ica’s great­ness ap­ply fairly and eq­ui­tably to all Amer­i­cans.”

Three oth­ers an­nounced their runs for as­sis­tant leader, the new No. 4 post, in­clud­ing Rep. Ben Ray Lu­jan of New Mex­ico, the chair­man of the cam­paign com­mit­tee who helped lead his col­leagues to the ma­jor­ity.

So far, though, no one has mounted a se­ri­ous di­rect chal­lenge to Pelosi, and some are re­luc­tant to take on the first fe­male speaker af­ter an elec­tion that brought a record num­ber of women to the polls and to the House.

Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who ran against Pelosi last year as a cen­trist al­ter­na­tive, said col­leagues want to do what’s best for the new mem­bers com­ing from dis­tricts that just flipped from Repub­li­cans. He said those Democrats need to be able to run for re-elec­tion in two years with­out be­ing sad­dled with the GOP’s at­tacks on Pelosi.

Fall­out on the Repub­li­can side of the aisle is just as com­pli­cated, with Ma­jor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy of Cal­i­for­nia fac­ing a chal­lenge from con­ser­va­tive Rep. Jim Jor­dan of Ohio for the top spot in their shrunken ranks. Both said they will seek the job of mi­nor­ity leader.

Repub­li­can lead­er­ship elec­tions are set for next week.

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