Why Did These Democrats Vote Against Nancy Pelosi?

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Earlier today, Nancy Pelosi was elected the new Speaker of the House, reclaiming the position after an eight-year absence. Pelosi received 220 votes to Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s 192. A pretty significant number of Democrats, however, voted for someone else, meaning that, although Democrats will open Congress with an 18-seat majority, Pelosi won a majority of speaker votes by just two votes.


So why did Pelosi lose these votes?

Much of it stems from the fight between conservative House Democrats and Pelosi, which has been going on for years but flared up after Democrats reclaimed the House majority. Frequent critics of Pelosi, including Reps. Seth Moulton, Tim Ryan, and Kathleen Rice, tried and failed to draft a challenger to the longtime Democratic House leader within the Democratic caucus. In November, though, eight Democrats in the Problem Solvers Caucus—a bipartisan centrist group—pledged to support Pelosi in exchange for her support for rules changes. And in the final blow to her opponents, Pelosi reached a deal in December with several of the remaining holdouts (including Moulton and Ryan). They agreed to drop their opposition to Pelosi in exchange for a promise that she’ll only serve at most two terms as Speaker, with a requirement that she wins two-thirds of the caucus’s support in order to serve the next term.

15 of their House Democratic colleagues, however, didn’t drop their opposition. But they also did not exactly agree with who else to support:

The vast majority of the list—Anthony Brindisi and Max Rose of New York, Jason Crow of Colorado, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Jared Golden of Maine, Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, Ben McAdams of Utah, Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, and Mikie Sherrill and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey—are freshmen members who flipped Republican seats. Many of them said they wouldn’t support Pelosi while they were running those campaigns.

But there are also some veteran Pelosi opponents there. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, who usually votes for Colin Powell (you know, that guy who isn’t a Democrat and also definitely didn’t do anything wrong while he was Secretary of State for an administration that did war crimes), voted present this time around. Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin, who’s entering his 11th term in Congress, voted for the Blue Dog Cooper last time around but this time voted for Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights legend who practically screamed Pelosi’s name when it was his own turn to vote.


Rice, a former Nassau County prosecutor entering her third term in Congress, voted for former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. It’s an interesting choice considering part of Rice’s argument has been that Pelosi is too liberal to be the Democratic leader in the House. On Thursday, the Daily Beast published polling by the progressive group Data for Progress showing that both Moulton and Rice could be vulnerable to primary challenges in 2020. The group Young Progressives of Nassau County are attempting to draft Nassau County legislator Siela Bynoe to run against Rice:


Although Pelosi’s job was the only one really in jeopardy, it wasn’t just Democrats who defected on Thursday. Despite the fact that House Freedom Caucus co-founder Jim Jordan voted for Kevin McCarthy and also may have looked the other way on systemic sexual assault in the Ohio State wrestling program for years, five of his fellow far-right Republicans voted for him over McCarthy on Thursday, while a sixth, libertarian Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, voted for Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie (who himself was one of the five Jordan voters).

We’ll know in about a year and a half how much it hurt the Democrats who voted against Pelosi to do so. For now, however, it doesn’t matter, as Pelosi is once again running a Democratic majority in the House.


Correction, 1/4/19, 8:53 a.m. ET: A previous version of this post mistakenly referred to freshman Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger as Allison Spanberger.

News editor, Splinter