Soon after, a statement from Rice on behalf of the group hit reporters’ inboxes. “Moments ago we met with Leader Pelosi and tried to engage her in a reasonable conversation about leadership transition,” Rice said. “Unfortunately, our concerns were dismissed outright. We remain united behind our goal of new leadership and intend to vote against Leader Pelosi in Caucus and on the Floor of the House.”
The statement reflected the most emboldened stance yet from the anti-Pelosi ringleaders. On November 19, 16 members signed on to a letter pressing for “new leadership,” but the language was interpreted by many as intentionally vague, signaling that some signees may have wanted an “out” to vote for Pelosi on the floor should no other candidate emerge. Yet Rice’s language on Wednesday was definitive: “She does not have the ability to get 218 votes on the floor,” she told reporters after the election. “I think people need to know when this leadership team plans on turning the reins over to the next generation.”
But if Pelosi’s naysayers had dug in, Pelosi herself had, too. Late Wednesday afternoon, she emerged as the caucus’s nominee for speaker, with 203 yeas and 32 nays. The nays were a mere half of the dissenting votes she’d received in 2016, when Ryan challenged her for the party’s nomination for minority leader. On Tuesday night, Pelosi had shrewdly offered members the option to vote “No” on her nomination rather than holding a voice vote, which is traditional when a leadership candidate runs unopposed. In doing so, she granted those who’d campaigned this year on opposing her the opportunity to stick to their promise, even if they eventually vote “Yes” on the House floor. The move signified her confidence in a victory on Wednesday, and offered her another tool to forge new alliances between now and January.
“We had a most unifying session just now in the House Democratic caucus,” Pelosi told reporters following the vote. “I’m very proud.”
Pelosi still has a math problem, to be sure. She needs 218 votes to win the speakership on January 3, 15 more than she received on Wednesday. She can ultimately afford to lose around 17 members out of the roughly 235 Democrats expected to cast a vote. Her opposition was quick to tout that figure: Following the elections, Ryan told reporters that with their 32 nays, they’d managed “twice as many [votes] as you need” to thwart Pelosi.
Read: Nancy Pelosi has become the most effective congressional leader of modern times—and, not coincidentally, the most vilified.
“It’s pretty obvious why there weren’t as many votes against her this time,” Rice added, “because there was no one running against her.”
The challenge now for her opponents will be to convince as many of those dissenters as possible to hold the line come January. Their strategy, according to multiple House Democratic aides, is to present themselves as pragmatists seeking a compromise against Pelosi’s continued rebuffing. They also plan to highlight their frustration that Pelosi “still refuses to acknowledge our concerns with her,” according to a senior aide to an anti-Pelosi member.