The first move in that strategy occurred last Thursday night when Pelosi met with Representative Pramila Jayapal, the incoming co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus. Jayapal had every reason to oppose Pelosi’s return to the speakership. The Seattle congresswoman is working on legislation to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); she has already voted to impeach Trump. Pelosi has mocked both causes on the record. “I have those who want to be for impeachment and for abolishing ICE,” she told Robert Draper of The New York Times Magazine this week. “Two really winning issues for us, right? In the districts we have to win? I don’t even think they’re the right thing to do.”
But Jayapal left Pelosi’s office with a commitment that Progressive Caucus members would enjoy better committee assignments and more say over legislation. And in return, she not only announced her support for Pelosi as speaker, but, according to Politico, also called the influential activist groups MoveOn and Indivisible, which quickly declared their support for Pelosi, too.
How did these progressive hard-liners justify supporting Pelosi, whose history of ideological compromise and big-donor fund-raising represents much of what they despise about the modern Democratic Party? They said her opponents were worse. Jayapal told Politico that the “drive” by party moderates to depose Pelosi “is not going to take us in the direction that we should go. It’s going to be the opposite of what the election really told us, which is a much more diverse, progressive, bold agenda.” MoveOn tweeted that “Dems must reject attempts to defeat” Pelosi “and move caucus to the right.” Indivisible declared, “We shouldn’t let a small group of white, moderate men sabotage her.” On Monday, Ocasio-Cortez—who had refrained from endorsing Pelosi during the campaign—justified her support in identical terms. “Out of the field, I would say that she is the most progressive candidate,” Ocasio-Cortez announced on Instagram. “All of the rebellion for the speakership are challenges to her right.”
Read: The Nancy Pelosi problem
It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. After the 2016 elections, 63 House Democrats had voted to dump Pelosi as speaker. But on Monday, after the Progressive Caucus’s endorsement of Pelosi, only 16 (11 sitting members and five who have just been elected) signed an open letter demanding “new leadership.” As damaging as the small number was the composition. Thirteen of the 16 were white males. Of the 11 sitting members, according to govtrack.us, 10 had a more conservative voting record than the average House Democrat in 2017. Many had a history of opposing abortion or gun control.
The moderate rebels grasped this liability. They knew that, on their own, they could not win over a caucus composed largely of progressives, women, and people of color. By Monday, their hopes for ideological jujitsu rested in large measure on Marcia Fudge, an African American representative from Cleveland who had called for “acknowledging the fact that the Democratic Party is becoming more young, more black, and more brown and letting that be reflected in our leadership.” Fudge had also slammed Pelosi as “a very wealthy person” who “raises a lot of money from a lot of other wealthy people.” Two of the ringleaders of the moderate revolt, Tim Ryan and Seth Moulton, were publicly boosting Fudge, who last week told The Washington Post, “I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of support I’ve received.”