Rep. Seth Moulton is still pushing for new Democratic congressional leadership, even after the party won back the majority in the House of Representatives. And the Massachusetts congressman thinks he and his allies have the power to force that change.
Moulton told reporters Tuesday evening that he is “100 percent” confident that the small group of Democrats opposing Rep. Nancy Pelosi as the party’s leader have enough votes to block her bid to return as House speaker. According to multiple reports, the 40-year-old Salem congressman is helping gather signatures for a letter from new and returning members of Congress committing to not vote for Pelosi when the entire House votes for its speaker in January.
The 78-year-old Califonia congresswoman, who’s led House Democrats since 2003, dismissed Moulton’s claim in no uncertain terms of her own Wednesday morning.
“I’m a busy person, but I will be the speaker of the House no matter what he said,” Pelosi told reporters as she left a meeting with fellow caucus members, according to Politico.
It didn’t take very long for Moulton to swipe back.
“I’m not the only one saying it,” he tweeted.
Last week, the American people sent a clear message that we need a new approach and new leaders in Congress. It’s time for us to listen.
— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) November 14, 2018
Moulton also asserted that last week’s elections “sent a clear message that we need a new approach and new leaders in Congress” and that it was “time for us to listen.”
Could Moulton and his allies actually block Pelosi?
This isn’t the first time Moulton and fellow Democrats have rebelled against Pelosi, calling for a “new generation” of leadership.
The third-term Bay State congressman was also prominently involved in an unsuccessful effort to oust her from the leadership role following the 2016 election (about a third of House Democrats ultimately voted for her challenger, Rep. Tim Ryan).
But with this most recent effort, the anti-Pelosi faction is setting up what is essentially a game of chicken with the longtime Democratic leader.
House Democrats will first hold an intra-party caucus vote on Nov. 28 for its congressional leaders, in which only a simple majority is needed to win and in which a vast majority of members are expected to again support Pelosi.
But while the anti-Pelosi coalition may not have the votes to block her from becoming the Democratic leader later this month, they could — in theory — keep her from securing a simple majority in the House-wide election for the speakership on Jan. 3 against the Republican leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy.
By gathering signatures for their forthcoming letter, Moulton and his allies are trying to show that she wouldn’t have enough Democratic votes to secure the speakership.
“The goal is to get to critical mass, and people realize it’s just time to move on,” Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader told reporters Tuesday, according to Roll Call.
No one is currently running against Pelosi to be the Democratic leader, but many of the party’s candidates elected last week either pledged to oppose her as the party’s leader or were noncommittal. As of Wednesday morning, Democrats held a 225-200 majority in the House, according to CNN, and will likely see that majority grow by a few members when the 10 unresolved congressional races are decided (Roll Call forecasts them to end up with around 231 seats, good for a 27-seat majority).
According to a tally by CNN, there are 10 incoming freshmen and 13 returning incumbents who have publicly vowed to oppose Pelosi’s bid for leadership.
It’s unclear whether those Democratic members would still follow through if their numbers swelled to the point where Democratic control of the speakership would be at risk. But according to Roll Call, there are seven newly elected Democrats who specifically said they won’t vote for Pelosi on the floor, even up against a Republican. That necessarily doesn’t mean they would flip and vote for McCarthy; they could simply vote “present” or vote for another Democrat (declared candidate or not).
In the floor vote, a simple majority (as opposed to a plurality) of all votes cast is necessary to win the speakership. If enough Democrats vote for another Democrat other than Pelosi, they could potentially deny her (and McCarthy) the majority needed to secure the speakership, in which case the vote would be repeated until members change their mind and a majority is reached.
If the Democrats who oppose Pelosi instead choose to simply vote “present” — technically not casting a vote — they could potentially lower the majority threshold to the point where McCarthy would be elected speaker.
“Everyone has made a commitment not to vote for her on the floor,” Moulton said Tuesday. “We are trying to do the right thing for the party by solving this ahead of time.”
Matt Corridoni, a spokesman for Moulton, says the congressman and his allies would never do anything that would put Democratic control of the speakership at risk, but he still would not be voting for Pelosi on the floor.
“The whole point of the letter is to accelerate this process so that it doesn’t peel out on to the floor,” Moulton told reporters Tuesday. “She’s the one that’s trying to drive this to a floor vote. We want to make it clear before it comes to that.”
For what it’s worth, Pelosi — who’s reportedly been working the phones to shore up support — seems to be calling their bluff.
Asked to put a percentage on the odds she’s re-elected House speaker during a CNN interview last week, she mirrored Moulton’s unqualified confidence:
This article has been updated to clarify Moulton’s views and the speakership election process.