Speaker of the House? Pelosi the only choice
Nancy Pelosi cleared the first hurdle in her quest to become speaker of the House of Representatives when the Democratic Caucus voted overwhelmingly to nominate her for that position.
The final vote will not come until Jan. 3, when 218 members of Congress will have to vote for the new speaker. Pelosi will need 218 Democratic votes. This week, 32 Democrats voted no on her nomination.
So between now and 2019, Pelosi has some work to do. But the simple fact is, at the moment, there is no one in the Democratic caucus better for the job. And it’s not even close.
The primary role of a legislative leader has rarely been to serve as the “face” of the party. She is not running for president. It is instead the unglamorous and complex job of making some subset of 435 individual political entrepreneurs come together in the name of a political party.
Pelosi has already said that she’d give others the spotlight when it came to the public part of the job. In the past, she has not been a regular on TV news shows, including the prestigious Sunday shows. Since 2007, when she became speaker of the House, she has had a couple of chances to give the response to the president’s State of the Union address, one of the most coveted television spots in politics, but she took neither one. Those spots went to two men: Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia in 2007 and, in 2018, Rep. Joseph Kennedy III of Massachusetts.
Even her detractors say that she’s best at one of the most critical, if not most critical, roles of speaker, which is to court votes and count votes. Counting is a lot more complicated than conducting a survey. It involves understanding the political challenges of each and every member of Congress and then devising a legislative package that can pass. Sometimes this entails compromise; sometimes this entails structuring the vote so that a member can cast a vote against an amendment and sometimes this entails allowing a member to vote against their party – if it already has the votes to prevail.
Pelosi has shown her toughness over and over. For instance, in 2005, she played a central role in the battle against privatizing Social Security. For the Affordable Care Act, she united both the left and right wings of her caucus. Later, as minority leader, she managed to keep the caucus together enough to prevent the Republican Congress from chipping away at Obamacare.
Finally, a speaker has to be able to win majorities. In the midterms, Pelosi and her leadership partner Steny Hoyer of Maryland were a very big part of the reason that the party gained 40 seats. Hoyer recruited and campaigned with candidates from the purple or red districts where Pelosi was viewed as too liberal. She helped raise the millions to make it all happen. They both imposed a stern message of discipline on their candidates, downplaying talk of impeachment and focusing Democrats on pocketbook issues like health care.
Pelosi will need to convince about 17 Democrats to vote with her. If I had to bet, we’ll be saying “Madam Speaker” for the second time in American history.