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Nancy Pelosi says she has the votes to become the next House speaker

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco on Sept. 13, 2018. CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by David Paul Morris
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco on Sept. 13, 2018. CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by David Paul Morris
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WASHINGTON — An unbowed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., insisted Thursday that she has the votes to become the chamber’s speaker despite opposition from more than a dozen Democrats who want fresh leadership when the party takes control next year.

“I have overwhelming support in my caucus to be speaker of the House,” Pelosi told reporters. “I happen to think at this point, I’m the best person for that.”

A vote in the Democratic caucus is scheduled for Nov. 28. The full House will vote Jan. 3 to elect a new speaker.

During her remarks, Pelosi touted the size of the Democratic victory in the midterm election, which she called “almost a tsunami.” With a few races still to be decided, Democrats are poised to pick up close to 40 seats in the chamber.

She called that “the biggest victory for the Democrats since 1974, when the Watergate babies came in.”

At least 17 Democrats oppose Pelosi, setting the stage for an intense battle over who will ascend to one of the most powerful positions in Washington.

After a campaign in which some Democrats prevailed in competitive districts by promising to oppose her, a coalition of incumbents and newly elected members has denied her a smooth path to the speakership.

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The defections, if they stand, would leave Pelosi, who has led the Democrats for more than 15 years, several votes short of the 218 she would need when the full House votes. However, no Democrat has stepped forward to run against her for the job she held from 2007 through 2010.

Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, told reporters this week that she’s being encouraged to stand for speaker if Pelosi doesn’t have the votes.

In an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday, she said she has been taken aback by the support from many of her colleagues for her possible bid.

“Over the last 12 hours, I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of support I’ve received,” Fudge said, adding that “probably closer to 30” Democrats have privately signaled that they are willing to oppose Pelosi.

“Things could change rapidly,” she said.

Fudge, 66, a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said she is building a diverse coalition as she considers a run, talking with allies in the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., moderate Democrats and newly elected members.

To this point, Pelosi, 78, has received the strong backing of the Congressional Black Caucus.

In a significant boost Thursday, Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., whom some have touted as a potential replacement for Pelosi, said in a tweet that she is backing Pelosi for the top leadership post.

Also Thursday, Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., another Canadian Broadcasting Corp. member, wrote a letter to colleagues praising Pelosi’s “insight, fortitude and strategic thinking” and urging support for her speakership bid.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder, an African American who is contemplating a 2020 presidential bid, also voiced support for Pelosi, praising her in a tweet as “an architect of the recent midterm success.”

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Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., a leader of the resistance to Pelosi, said in an interview with CNN on Thursday that Fudge is “the kind of new leader that we need in this party.”

He added: “She’s in touch with middle America. She understands what the American people want. She’s a next-generation leader that people will look to and say, ‘That’s the future of our party, that’s the future of our country and that’s exactly the kind of leader that I want to see as our next speaker.”

Still, there were signs that some undecided Democrats would fall into line behind Pelosi.

Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., an incoming congresswoman who called for new leadership during her campaign, said she would meet with Pelosi on Friday to talk about committee assignments.

“We can celebrate that diversity, that rainbow of women coming in,” said Tlaib, who will be one of the first Muslim women in Congress. “But I think it’s really important that we also honor it by putting [women] on some really critical committees.”

Asked what she wants to hear from Pelosi, Tlaib said: “That working families are important and that me being here and celebrating that I’m a first is important but that she’ll honor it by putting me on critical committees where decisions are made.”

There is a scenario in which Pelosi could be elected speaker even if her Democratic support falls short: With the help of Republicans.

President Donald Trump said last week that he thinks Pelosi deserves the job and that he could find some GOP votes for her on the House floor if needed.

Rep. Tom Reed (N.Y.) said that he would be open to supporting Pelosi if she commits in writing to rule changes being sought by the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group that he co-chairs.

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The rule changes are intended to streamline the process of considering bills with broad bipartisan support on the House floor.

“I’m open to crossing over,” Reed said. “However, I think the reality of the day is, they’re going to have to do this on their side.”

Other Republicans have sounded skeptical about Pelosi drawing Republican votes, given her unpopularity among GOP voters. Asked Wednesday about the prospect of any Republicans supporting Pelosi, Rep. Mark Meadows (N.C.) said: “I doubt it.”

In her news conference, Pelosi didn’t seem interested in prevailing with the help of Republicans.

“I intend to win the speakership with Democratic votes,” she said.

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The Washington Post’s Robert Costa, Erica Werner, Mike DeBonis and Elise Viebeck contributed to this report.

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