House staffers expect Pelosi to continue status quo despite shrunken majority

Gavel Time

The speaker of the House is expected to struggle to maintain tight control over the Democratic caucus

Perry Bindelglass

Although Democrats will enter the 117th Congress in January with a significantly narrower House majority than they have enjoyed for the last two years, House staffers say they are not expecting Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to significantly change her strategy in the next term.

Pelosi will likely continue to keep a firm grip on her caucus to manage the ongoing rift between the progressive and moderate wings of the party, three House staffers told JI.

“I think Pelosi and [House Majority Leader Steny] Hoyer continue to be effective notwithstanding their age because they are extraordinary bridge-builders,” one aide said. “They are able to coalesce and bring disparate parts of the caucus together in ways that few people can… I don’t see leadership changing their modus operandi much.”

A second aide agreed, noting that Pelosi “demands loyalty and… perfection.” 

The aide predicted Pelosi will be willing to cut deals with both the progressive members in her party and moderate Republicans — when needed — to pass bills. But they also acknowledged that the Democrats’ smaller majority will create “legislative barriers.”

“I think the goal will be to pass legislation, so however that gets done,” the aide said. “Whether that’s through progressives demanding change or compromise with Republicans, I think she’ll know when to make that judgement.”

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), a conservative Chicago-area Democrat who has served in Congress since 2005 and who lost his primary race earlier this year to a progressive challenger, said Pelosi will have a tough challenge holding her caucus together during the upcoming term.

“The narrow House majority is going to make things incredibly difficult,” Lipinski said. “There will be a lot of interesting politics going on in the House as Speaker Pelosi tries to keep both the left flank and the right flank of the Democratic Party on board for any bipartisan legislation that comes out of the Senate that President Biden really wants to get passed into law.”

He predicted that the Senate will likely be the main engine of legislation in the upcoming term, and that President-elect Joe Biden will likely have a significant role to play both in helping to wrangle House Democrats and in encouraging Democrats in both chambers to moderate their stances.

“The question is going to be how does the House… pass what the Senate passes,” Lipinski said. “President Biden is going to have to step in and really ask the Democratic Caucus in the House to go along with some legislation that probably the progressives are not going to be happy with in the House. And if they don’t, [Democratic leaders will] probably have to reach out to moderate Republicans in the House.”

The House’s approach to Israel going forward will be set in large part by new House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-NY), the second aide told JI, but said prior to Meeks’s election that they “don’t anticipate that much will change on the big issues.”

The first House aide also noted that the Democratic leadership “feel a debt of gratitude towards the frontline vulnerable members who flipped the Republican seats [in 2018] upon whose backs we kept the majority” — several of whom voted against Pelosi’s speaker bid in 2019.

While Pelosi is expected to retain the gavel, her position is dependent on the support of a handful of her previous rivals — as of now, she can only afford to lose four votes in the race for speaker, Lipinski noted.

Three of the Democrats who voted against Pelosi in 2019, Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Jason Crow (D-CO) and Jim Cooper (D-TN), told JI they will vote for Pelosi, while several other members who opposed her last bid lost their seats in last month’s elections.

Two legislators — Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) and Jared Golden (D-ME) — have publicly said they will not vote for Pelosi, but others have yet to publicly commit either way. 

A spokesperson for Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) — who helped lead the insurgency against Pelosi in the 2019 election — did not comment when JI asked if she’d vote for Pelosi in January, and several others have declined to say how they plan to vote.

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