By Emily Cochrane, New York Times–
Democrats ushered in their leadership on Wednesday for the 116th Congress, including more than 200 returning and incoming members signaling that come January, they want Representative Nancy Pelosi of California to reclaim the speaker’s gavel.
Here are some of the takeaways from the caucus’s votes.
The real test for Ms. Pelosi is in January — and now there’s a road map for her allies and dissenters.
Without a challenger, Ms. Pelosi was expected to easily claim the nomination for speaker. But with 203 yes votes, offset by 32 no votes and three ballots left blank, she fell short of the 218 votes she’ll need to win in a floor vote on Jan. 3.
Even though the vote was conducted by secret ballot, it gave both Ms. Pelosi and her detractors a sense of how strong her majority is.
Allies argue that earning more than 200 votes of support is a sign that Ms. Pelosi can wrangle her way to victory in January. In 2016, when Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio tried to challenge her for minority leader, she had 63 detractors, so there is confidence that she can garner the support she needs on the floor next year.
But her opponents say that Ms. Pelosi faces a sizable number of colleagues who need to be swayed, even despite her relentless deal making. (She has already persuaded two representatives to revoke their opposition vows and cut a bargain moments before the vote.)
Opponents are calling for a change in leadership, but that sentiment didn’t extend to Nos. 2 and 3.
Ms. Pelosi’s opponents have said that their objection to her bid for speaker is not rooted in discontent with her leadership of the House Democrats, but in a desire to see new faces at the top.
Without term limits on leadership, Ms. Pelosi and Representatives Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland and James E. Clyburn of South Carolina have maintained their hold for more than a decade.
“This is not personal,” Representative Kathleen Rice of New York, one of the lead voices advocating a replacement, told reporters after the vote on Wednesday. “It’s not even just about her. It’s about her entire team.”
But the caucus allowed Mr. Hoyer and Mr. Clyburn — both of whom also ran unopposed — to remain in the second and third highest leadership positions.
“There was no opposition to them,” Ms. Rice said, when pressed on the contrast in support.
Ms. Pelosi was the only unopposed candidate in the top races who did not receive unanimous approval.
A new generation of leaders is starting to emerge from the wings.
While three septuagenarians remain at the head of the party, there were signs that the next generation of Democratic leaders are heading toward center stage.
Representative Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, 46, buoyed by his triumphant leadership of the House’s campaign arm, will ascend to the job of assistant majority leader, the fourth-highest position of the party.
And Representative Hakeem Jeffries, 48, who has already prompted comparisons to former President Barack Obama, narrowly clinched the No. 5 leadership position. By 10 votes, he edged out Representative Barbara Lee of California, who would have been the first black woman in the position — and the fourth septuagenarian in leadership.
The most emotional race wasn’t for speaker. It was for caucus chairman.
The most emotional and visceral race on Wednesday was actually for caucus chairman, as Mr. Jeffries and Ms. Lee, both members of the Congressional Black Caucus, faced off.
The secret ballots exposed division in the party, as members who had reportedly promised their vote to Ms. Lee used the cover of anonymity to instead endorse Mr. Jeffries.
Representative Jackie Speier, a fellow Californian of Ms. Lee’s, said that eliminating the secret ballot system would ensure that Democrats “have the guts to say who we’re for and say it publicly.”
“There could’ve been some ageism, there could’ve been sexism,” she said of Ms. Lee’s defeat. “Could’ve been a lot of things.”
But even with the disappointment over the outcome of Ms. Lee’s second attempt, some of her supporters still saw a reason to celebrate.
“It was just wonderful to see how this world has evolved,” said Representative Frederica Wilson of Florida, who said she voted for Ms. Lee. “I grew up during the days when something like this could not even be possible, and to see Hakeem Jeffries triumphant this morning is just phenomenal.”
Maybe, just maybe, there will be a little less gridlock under a Speaker Pelosi.
As part of her bargaining for backing in the caucus and on the House floor, Ms. Pelosi made some concessions to the Problem Solvers Caucus, a handful of members who withheld support until she accepted some changes to House rules.
Theoretically, the changes are meant to ensure that more bipartisan action is possible on the House floor. Notable proposals that Ms. Pelosi accepted would make it easier for bills and amendments with a certain amount of bipartisan support to reach the floor or their respective committees. She also agreed to a provision that would essentially prevent a single member from forcing a vote of no confidence in a speaker.
It remains to be seen how successful they will be in carrying out the rules.