By most late counts, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., should be reelected speaker when the 117th Congress convenes Sunday.
However, to do so, Pelosi — at 81, the oldest speaker of the House in history — will have to get a majority of the votes of those on the House floor Sunday afternoon. (Under current House rules, no proxy voting is permitted in the speaker’s race and members must be present to have their votes counted).
This is the stumbling block for Pelosi: The number of lawmakers who are present seems to be changing by the day – and, with it, the majority she desperately needs to keep the race from going to a second ballot.
As of Saturday, there will be 222 Democrats and 210 Republicans on the House floor. There will be three empty seats for now, all on the Republican side of the aisle: the seats of the late Rep.-elect Luke Letlow, R-La., who died last week; Rep.-elect Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Florida, who announced Friday she tested positive for COVID-19; and New York’s 22nd District, in which Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., led by 29 votes with all votes in but will not be certified in time for Sunday.
Pelosi did get a “booster shot” Saturday when two Democrats who had announced last week they tested positive for COVID-19 —Reps. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., and Rick Larsen, D-Wash.— said they had their doctor’s permission to travel to Washington and vote for the speaker.
So Pelosi needs 216 votes to win on the first ballot Sunday. Seven votes by Democrats for other candidates (voting “present” does not count) will send the speaker’s race to a second ballot, at which point it is widely expected, Pelosi will drop out and a crop of new Democrats seeking her gavel will emerge.
Reps. Jared Golden, D-Maine, and Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., have made it clear they will vote for a candidate other than Pelosi. Another Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., has signaled she will vote “present,” which does not count as a vote for speaker but reduces the majority needed by Pelosi.
Also, 10 of the 15 House Democrats who voted against Pelosi last time did so knowing it was a “safe” vote because of their comfortable majority. Now, with the House in its closest party division since 1958, it is likely many of them will support Pelosi — albeit reluctantly.
The X-factor in this election is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, the face of the House Democrats’ progressive wing. Before the election, she told CNN’s Jake Tapper she wanted the “most progressive candidate [for speaker], and if that candidate is Nancy Pelosi, I will support her.”
That is the closest she has come to an endorsement of the speaker.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.