After serving 17 years as the House Democratic leader, Pelosi is running unopposed. But she will have to count votes carefully to ensure that she can avoid any embarrassment on the House floor, facing the Democrats’ smallest majority in decades
, a pandemic that could hinder attendance and some in her caucus agitating for new leadership, as well as unified Republican resistance.
“If Nancy can do anything, it is that she knows how to count,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Democrat from Virginia. “She is very aware of the fact that with a slim majority — with some members who voted against her two years ago — there is gonna have to be an effort to persuade them that that was then and this is now. We cannot afford to have uncertainty about the speakership.”
In order to win the speakership, a member must receive a majority of votes. In 2018, 15 Democrats defected from Pelosi but she can only afford to lose a few in 2021. After losing a dozen seats in 2020, House Democrats are likely to control around 222 seats next term
Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin and Maine Rep. Jared Golden have already said they do not plan on voting for her. And a handful of moderate and progressive Democrats, including Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger and Reps.-elect Cori Bush of Missouri and Jamaal Bowman of New York, have declined to say how they would vote.
Pelosi’s deputies are also concerned that some allies with underlying health issues might be sidelined since all members must be present to vote. One Democratic member — Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin
— announced she tested positive for Covid earlier this week but her spokeswoman told CNN that she “doesn’t anticipate this impacting her ability to perform her duties, including voting.”
Pelosi’s allies have said the speaker is confident that she’ll easily win reelection. The speaker has a myriad of tools at her disposal to curry votes, including a massive fundraising operation, committee assignments and legislation she can bring to the floor. In 2018, Pelosi, 80, suggested that this would be her last term
in office, striking a deal with a small group of Democratic rebels that she would serve no more than two terms as Speaker.
Pelosi told her members on a private call earlier this week that her only enemy in the fight for speaker was Covid, according to multiple sources familiar with it, because the virus could affect the number of members who could come to Washington and vote. While members could vote while sick, the optics would be terrible.
“She is one of the few, clear leaders who can provide cohesion and leadership for the Democratic majority,” said Connolly. “I think she goes into this in a strong position, but clearly cognizant of challenges she faces in terms of numbers and the uncertainty of coronavirus.”