WASHINGTON — As House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi clears hurdles in her bid to become the next speaker, nine members of her own party circulated a letter on Friday indicating they will not support her bid for the top leadership role unless she endorses their proposed changes to House rules.
Nine of the 24 House Democrats who are members of the Problem Solvers Caucus — a bipartisan group — signed the letter, which asked for changes that would, in essence, empower rank-and-file members to push bills in the House, a power now reserved for the leadership.
“While we appreciate Leader Pelosi’s broad commitment to our effort, we have yet to receive specific commitments to our proposed rules changes that would help ‘Break the Gridlock’ and allow for true bipartisan governing in this new era of divided government,” the group wrote.
The letter’s signees condemn “obstructionism and pure partisanship” in current politics and note that there has been a “stalemate” in recent discussions with Pelosi but hope to work toward a consensus.
According to a source familiar, the nine members who signed are: Reps. Thomas Suozzi of New York; Tom O’Halleran of Arizona; Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey; Daniel Lipinski of Illinois; Kurt Schrader of Oregon; Stephanie Murphy of Florida; Jim Costa of California; Darren Soto of Florida; and Vicente Gonzalez of Texas.
Gottheimer, one of the chairmen of the Problem Solvers Caucus, told CNN on Friday that he had been in touch with Pelosi and her team a half dozen times over the course of the week.
“If we don’t figure a way to govern together, we’re not going to get things through the Senate and to the President,” he said in a phone call.
Gottheimer emphasized that the opposition letter is not about any one person in particular but instead about “process and governing.”
Schrader, a Democrat and vocal critic of Pelosi, has signed both Friday’s letter and a separate letter released Monday signed by 16 Democrats who called for new leadership. One of those 16 signees from Monday’s letter, Rep. Brian Higgins of New York, later said he would back Pelosi.
While both letters underscore some of the obstacles Pelosi faces in returning to the speakership, she is widely expected to win a large majority of her caucus’ support when the party votes behind closed doors in leadership elections once the House returns next week. The actual vote for speaker will happen once the new Congress is sworn in in January, where Pelosi will need a majority of the full House to become speaker — 218 votes, if all House members participated. However, Pelosi could win with fewer than 218 votes if some members of the caucus vote “present,” which does not count to the overall vote total, or if some members are absent.
Still the push by more moderate members of the Democratic caucus to halt Pelosi’s rise and bring in new leadership has angered some in the more liberal wing of the party. Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lambasted Friday’s letter on Twitter.
“9 Dems are choosing to hold the entire 220+ caucus hostage if we don’t accept their GOP-friendly rules that will hamstring healthcare efforts from the get-go,” Cortez tweeted. “People sent us here to get things done, not ‘negotiate’ with an admin that jails children and guts people’s healthcare.”
Pelosi’s office has maintained confidence that she’ll return to the speakership in January and the California Democrat has met with some critics, opponents and incoming Democrats who promised to vote against Pelosi as a campaign issue.
Earlier this week, Pelosi benefited from a decision by Rep. Marcia Fudge, who was considering running against Pelosi for speaker, to not run for the top House spot and endorse Pelosi for the job. Fudge was among the lawmakers Pelosi met with last week. Pelosi announced on Tuesday that Fudge would chair a House Administration subcommittee on elections.
So far, no other Democrat has emerged as a potential candidate to challenge Pelosi for the top job, a key hurdle for those who’ve opposed he return to the speakership.