A group of nine centrist Democrats vowed anew Monday to oppose Rep. Nancy Pelosi or any other candidates for House speaker unless they agreed to rules changes aimed at easing bipartisan legislating.
Meanwhile, Pelosi on Sunday appeared to make progress as another avowed opponent — Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.) — said in a TV interview that there were circumstances under which he might support Pelosi in a January floor vote.
The fresh demands from Democratic members of the cross-aisle Problem Solvers Caucus come after pushback from a young liberal star of the incoming freshman class, Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who called them “GOP-friendly rules” in a holiday weekend tweet “that will hamstring healthcare efforts from the get-go.”
The nine Democrats initially threatened to withhold their votes in a Nov. 13 letter. Now, with behind-the-scenes talks sputtering, they are renewing their demands.
The tiff stands as an early test of Pelosi’s ability to balance the wishes of more moderate lawmakers — “majority makers” who have been able to win swing and Republican-leaning districts — against an aggressive new crop of young progressives more interested in confrontation than compromise.
It also stands as a separate obstacle for Pelosi (D-Calif.), apart from a different group of 15 rebels who have signed a letter pledging to oppose her, as she scrambles to fend off internal critics to reclaim the speaker’s gavel after eight years leading the minority party.
Pelosi has seen some success in softening that group’s opposition. Last week, she persuaded one of the letter’s initial signers, Rep. Brian Higgins of New York, to support her and won the backing of one of the group’s preferred alternatives, Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio).
Lynch, who signed the Nov. 19 letter saying he was “committed to voting for new leadership,” told a local television station that he could envision backing Pelosi during the scheduled Jan. 3 floor vote.
“If it becomes as a choice between a Republican and Nancy Pelosi, I’ll obviously support Nancy Pelosi,” Lynch told WCVB, the ABC affiliate in Boston. “But I do think we risk losing the majority in the House — we risk having Trump elected for another four years — if the Democrats don’t offer a new direction in the Democratic Party.”
Lynch’s comments and the Problem Solvers’ threats come days before a key test vote for Pelosi, who has been seeking to shore up support amid a rebellion by some Democrats in the chamber who want fresh leadership. On Wednesday, House Democrats are scheduled to hold a closed-door vote for their leadership.
Pelosi is expected to easily prevail, but the math becomes more difficult on Jan. 3, when Republicans also get a say on who succeeds retiring Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).
The Problem Solvers group had been agitating for rules changes months before the election and released a letter in September, signed by both Republicans and Democrats, warning both parties that they would withhold their votes unless the speaker met their demands.
Pelosi last week released a draft rules proposal that incorporated some of the Problem Solvers’ priorities but omitted several of the more substantial demands. Instead, the proposal floated the creation of a special committee to explore further reforms.
According to aides familiar with the discussions, negotiations between Pelosi and the group’s Democratic co-chairman, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), continued behind the scenes but reached an impasse over the holiday weekend.
In its statement Monday, the group doubled down on three particular demands: a “debate and timely vote” on any bill that is co-sponsored by three-fifths of House members; a guaranteed debate and vote on any amendment that wins at least 20 Democratic and 20 Republican co-sponsors; and a provision requiring committees to debate and vote on at least one bill from each of its members, provided that the bill is relevant to the panel’s jurisdiction and has at least one co-sponsor from the other party.
“The bottom line is this: We need real rules reform to get bipartisan legislation heard — not just more committees to study the problem,” the group said. “Bipartisan legislation with broad support deserves honest debate and a simple up-or-down vote.”
In her tweet, Ocasio-Cortez appeared to reject the premise that more bipartisanship was needed in the House.
“People sent us here to get things done, not ‘negotiate’ with an admin that jails children and guts people’s healthcare,” she said.
Pelosi is set to meet with the caucus’s Democrats on Tuesday. A Pelosi aide not authorized to comment publicly said talks remain ongoing.