Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she has "overwhelming support" from House Democrats to become the next speaker. Asked if sexism might block her second act, she shot back that's a question for the mostly male lawmakers signing a letter against her.
A group of 17 Democrats led by Rep. Seth Moulton D-Mass., have pledged to vote against Pelosi's return as the first female speaker of the House. The list includes a dozen incumbents and five newcomers, including two Democrats whose races have not yet been decided. Confirmed by an aide to one of the organizers, the list was first published in the Huffington Post. It includes just three women.
"If in fact there is any misogyny involved in it, it's their problem, not mine," Pelosi told reporters. "I intend to win the speakership with Democratic votes."
Illinois centrist Democrat Dan Lipinski met with Pelosi Wednesday. He and others want to change the rules governing what bills hit the floor and how amendments are offered.
“If we do not get rules changes that really open up the process, change this rigged system, allow policymaking in the House from the bottom up, which is what I think this election was about … If we don’t’ see that then, then I’m not going to vote for speaker,” Lipinski said.
Wednesday, Illinois Congressman Bobby Rush was out with a strong endorsement and said, “Nancy is tried and true. … She can handle Donald Trump.”
78-year-old Pelosi was bombarded with questions Thursday as Democrats — who took control of the House with their biggest midterm victories since Watergate — prepared to huddle privately with new members and begin sorting out the leadership battle.
One letter-signer, Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio, has said that other lawmakers are urging her to run. She's an ally of Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, who challenged Pelosi two years ago.
"Certainly there will be someone that will step up," Fudge told reporters Tuesday. "And those discussions are going on now."
Pelosi has faced challenges before but this one — fueled by frustrated incumbents who feel shut out of leadership and newcomers calling for changes at the top — poses perhaps the biggest threat yet.
With a narrow Democratic majority, now at 230 seats, Pelosi does not have much cushion to secure the 218 votes she'd need on the floor if all Republicans vote against her as expected. Some races remain undecided and the Democratic majority could grow slightly.
There is a chance the math could shift in Pelosi's favor if lawmakers are absent or simply vote "present," meaning she would need fewer than 218 votes for an absolute majority. The full chamber will elect the next speaker Jan. 3.
Allies of Pelosi have churned out endorsements daily, with support from incoming House committee chairmen, leaders of outside organizations including women's groups, and labor unions and others who align with Democrats and provide resources for elections.
Many attest to Pelosi's skills at fundraising for the party, corralling the caucus, and delivering votes. Her supporters say now is not the time for infighting when voters expect Democrats to stand up to President Donald Trump.
Pelosi has remained steadfast in her pursuit of the gavel and welcomed all challengers. Her latest catchphrase: "Come on in, the water's warm."
But Pelosi also acknowledges the discomfort some lawmakers face because she's the GOP's favorite election-year villain. Some 137,000 ads were run against her this election cycle, she said. "It makes it hard on the candidates," she conceded.
Pointing to Democrats' midterm success, she added, "Obviously those ads didn't work."
"People don't even know who I am — an Italian-American grandmother with lots of energy, a mother of five, a grandmother of nine — who is here to do what's right for our future," said Pelosi.
During her weekly press conference, Pelosi lined up all the expected questions from reporters about the speakership race and then answered them one by one.
Referring to her opponents' campaign, she quipped: "Have you seen the letter?"
The letter-writers, led by Moulton, Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., and others, have yet to present it publicly. They promise to do so soon.
Democrats seeking to block Pelosi argue it's time to give younger lawmakers a chance to rise to high-level posts. They also say that Republicans have done such a good job demonizing Pelosi in campaign ads that it's hard for Democrats to be elected in closely contested, moderate districts.
No challenger to Pelosi has emerged, but the group agitating for changes says there would be plenty of candidates should her bid be derailed.
Finding a consensus candidate could prove daunting, and lawmakers hold mixed views about the prospect of a floor fight as the opening act of the new Congress.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., another Pelosi critic, told reporters Tuesday that keeping her as speaker but making other changes in the party's leadership was "a possibility." No. 2 Democratic leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and No. 3 leader Jim Clyburn, D-Md., have served under Pelosi for years.
"It's about change," Perlmutter said. "She's not the goal. Maybe for some."
Pelosi made history when she became the first woman speaker of the House in 2007. She assumed the post after Democrats took control of the House in midterm elections during former President George W. Bush's second term.
As speaker under former President Barack Obama, she played a crucial role in passing the Affordable Care Act. Pelosi stepped down in 2011, after voters upset over "Obamacare" returned control to Republicans.