Due to a number of unforeseen events, current Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s grip on power has grown more tenuous. The vote for her to retain her lofty position is scheduled for Jan. 3, and there is anxiety among some Pelosi allies that there may not be enough Democratic votes on that date for her to keep the gavel.
According to The Hill, COVID-19 illnesses, a loss of a dozen Democratic seats during the 2020 elections and three obstinate Democratic House members could keep enough Democratic voting members from voting “yes” that it could cost Pelosi the speaker’s position. Not only that, but it could even mean a Republican like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California could sneak in and win the coveted spot.
The role and election of the top leadership position in the House is not defined in the Constitution. Instead, it’s up to the House to make its own rules. During the COVID-19 pandemic, according to The Hill, House rules have allowed members to vote remotely by phone. However, those rules expire at the end of the year. The rules outlined for the Jan. 3 vote stipulate that a member has to be present in the House chamber to cast a ballot. That’s where things can get tricky.
So far 35 members of Congress have come down with the disease, five are out right now and if a family member or colleague comes down with the virus, members are told to quarantine for 14 days, according to The Hill.
Besides the possibility of not having sick members able to vote, according to The Hill, there are likely three Democratic members who are not supporting Pelosi: Reps. Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, Jared Golden of Maine and Elissa Slotkin of Michigan.
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Some Democrats don’t discount the possibility of surprise in the speaker vote. Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth told The Hill that COVID-19 is the wild card.
“Let’s say, just theoretically, we had six or eight people out with COVID and the Republicans have none. They probably could elect McCarthy.”
Another Democratic lawmaker also thinks the outcome is not certain, especially with Democrats holding only a slim majority after November’s elections and departures of those chosen to serve in a potential Biden administration, according to CNN.
“COVID is a wild card,” said Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia told The Hill. “If we have sick members who cannot come back, and we only have a four-vote majority, it throws our entire advent of the 117th Congress in peril — a smooth advent.”
Johnson added that an appearance of chaos just before the Senate runoff elections in Georgia would look bad. “The implications that it could have on the race[s] down in Georgia, it is unsettling,” he told The Hill.
To avoid it, Pelosi is calling on all of her loyalists to put the heat on a number of her naysayers hoping they will stay the course, The Hill reported.
One member who voted against Pelosi during the November caucus, says he’ll now vote for her.
Democratic Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader said in an interview with The Associated Press that he’s spoken to Pelosi about the need to rebrand Democrats as more moderate.
“She may be the bulwark against the extreme far left,” he said.
A number of the so-call extreme far-left have maintained their support for Pelosi’s leadership position. As The AP reported, after Democrats won the House majority in the 2018 midterms, Pelosi had early clashes with then-newcomers such as Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but was able to fight them off.
According to The Hill, the speaker has been skillful in fighting back opposition from both flanks.
“There’s the usual suspects who make it part of their brand to vote against her. But I think there’s an awareness — and there’s certainly a message coming from within the caucus — that this may not be a year for the usual branding,” Democratic Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes told The Hill.
“We’re a fractious bunch, but Pelosi’s very, very good at what she does. So she’s going to earn her money.”
Pelosi was first elected to Congress in 1987. In 2002, she was elected to head her party, after her eighth term. She was first elected speaker of the House after the 2006 midterms, when Democrats won majorities in both the House and Senate. She served as minority leader after Republicans won the chamber in the 2010 midterms, then returned to the speaker’s with the opening of the 116th Congress in January 2019.
Even if a Republican were elected speaker Jan. 3 through some combination of politics and the coronavirus pandemic, it’s not likely to last.
A House speaker can be removed through a parliamentary maneuver known as a “motion to vacate the chair,” according to Ballotpedia. A new speaker could then be elected, according to the Congressional Research Service.