Nancy Pelosi has ‘candid’ talk with potential rival for speaker

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Nancy Pelosi met privately Friday with her top potential rival for House speaker, Rep. Marcia Fudge, as the Democratic leader works to gather support and fend off a challenge from a small but persistent group determined to stop her from reclaiming the gavel.

Fudge said the two had “a very open and frank discussion,” including about “the feeling in the caucus of people who are feeling left out and left behind” and the need for a transition to new leadership.

“We talked about some succession planning,” Fudge told reporters. “She did not share them with me. But I think it is something our caucus is interested in knowing.”

The Democratic leader and the Ohio Democratic congresswoman met in Pelosi’s stately office, steps from the House floor, for about 45 minutes as lawmakers left town for the Thanksgiving recess without a resolution to the leadership struggle.

“We had a candid and respectful conversation,” Pelosi said. Fudge said she shared with Pelosi “the growing support that I have and why I’m considering a bid to run for speaker.”

Democrats are expected to take an internal caucus vote when they return after Thanksgiving and Fudge said she would decide by then if she is running.

“To her credit, she wanted to know what my concerns were. We discussed them,” Fudge said. “What she asked me was, basically, how we could get to a point where I’m supportive.”

If it was up to most of the Democratic Party, Pelosi would be the obvious choice to become speaker of the House in the new Congress, when Democrats have the majority. But within the ranks there’s a small but persistent group pushing to topple her return as the first woman with the gavel. Some say it’s time to give younger lawmakers a chance to rise.

Pelosi, 78, made history when she became the first female 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.

She appears be winning the outside game for a return to the speakership, amassing endorsements from a who’s who of the nation’s Democrats: former Vice President Al Gore and former Secretary of State John Kerry. Inside the Capitol she has support from influential lawmakers, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the civil rights leader, and Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who’s in line to chair the Intelligence Committee, among others.

Most recently Pelosi got the nod from MoveOn.org as a coalition of liberals sound the alarm against an overthrow being orchestrated by mostly centrist Democrats who want to prevent the San Franciscan from being the face of the party. It noted her work passing the Affordable Care Act and tweeted: “Were it not for her skilled and effective leadership, the ACA would not be law today. Dems must reject attempts to defeat her and move caucus to the right.”

The Congressional Progressive Caucus also met Thursday with Pelosi and emerged pleased with her commitment to boost their ranks on key committees and provide funding for lower-level leadership offices that set policy and communications for the caucus.

The group has not yet endorsed anyone, but Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., a co-chair of the caucus, said Democrats need a leader who can hit the ground running “to deliver real results.”

The show of strength is a reflection on Pelosi’s 15-year tenure as party leader but also her place in history as the first woman to hold — and potentially return — to the speaker’s office after an election that ushered in a record number of women candidates.

It’s not lost on supporters that a group made up of mostly men is leading the effort to oust her. On the list of 17 names who’ve signed onto a letter against her, just three are women.

Pelosi’s opponents started rallying Thursday behind Fudge’s possible bid for the job, even though her potential campaign is splitting votes in the powerful Black Caucus.

Fudge, recently re-elected to a 7th term, is an ally of Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, who mounted an unsuccessful campaign against Pelosi two years ago and is a leader of the current effort to topple her.

“The country needs to come together, our caucus needs to come together,” Ryan said. “We need to heal and Marcia Fudge is one of the people who could make that happen.”

Pelosi has fended off challenges before, but this one — fueled by newcomers calling for change and frustrated incumbents who feel shut out of leadership after her many years at the helm — poses perhaps the biggest threat yet.

With a narrow Democratic majority, now at about 230 seats, she does not have much cushion to secure the 218 votes needed on the floor if all Republicans vote against her, as expected. Some House 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.

Pelosi has said she has “overwhelming support” to become the next speaker.

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

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