Nancy Pelosi won an important U.S. House Democratic caucus vote on November 28, and all three Iowans who will be part of the majority next year backed her for speaker.
House Democrats voted by secret ballot, supporting Pelosi by a 203 to 32 margin. The binding vote for House speaker will be in January, when the new Congress convenes. Pelosi is not guaranteed to have the votes she will need on the House floor, but no Democratic rival has stepped up to run for speaker, as Matt Laslo explained at VICE and Matt Fuller did at the Huffington Post. But she’s in a stronger position than two years ago, when 63 members of a significantly smaller caucus voted for Tim Ryan to be minority leader. Pelosi has already won over a number of Democrats who had vowed to oppose her only a few weeks ago.
Dave Loebsack’s first term representing IA-02 in the House coincided with Pelosi’s ascension to the speaker’s chair in 2007, and he always seemed likely to support her again. His name never appeared on any list of Pelosi critics (sometimes dubbed the #FiveWhiteGuys). But Loebsack had not confirmed his support until November 28. His spokesperson said in a statement to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, “Since November, Dave has wanted anyone who was interested in running for a leadership position to have a chance to step up. As you know, Nancy Pelosi is the only Democrat who stepped forward and Dave is now supporting her for Speaker of the House.”
Representative-elect Abby Finkenauer (IA-01) also had not declared her plans regarding the speaker vote, but her staff released this statement on November 28.
“Over the course of my campaign to represent the people of northeast Iowa in Congress, I made it clear that I was running so that we could get Washington working for Iowa families again. In every corner of the district, I heard so many sharing similar concerns: ever-increasing healthcare costs, the need for serious investment in infrastructure, and the importance of expanding skills and apprenticeships training so we can bring good-paying jobs to northeast Iowa. Meeting with voters face-to-face in living rooms, coffee shops, parades, and in all parts of the district made me more determined than ever to get to work and get things done, just as Iowans wake up and do every single day.
“I’m deeply honored that the people of the first district have allowed me to be their voice as we get Washington to work on finding solutions for these real issues. I said throughout the campaign that my support for any candidate for leadership would depend on serious conversations about how we can get things done for the people I’ve been entrusted to represent, and in the last few weeks as member-elect, I’ve been having those conversations so that I can make sure northeast Iowa’s concerns are heard loud and clear by everyone seeking positions of leadership in the next Congress.
“There has been considerable attention paid in particular to who Democrats would nominate as Speaker of the House. Since I was elected to get things done instead of playing political games, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I will be voting for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker. I have her word that she is dedicated to protecting Social Security and Medicare, and understands the importance of investing in skills training and apprenticeship programs as well as infrastructure. We need leadership that can get it done. It’s time to unite as a country to move forward and bring common sense and decency to our government and our politics.
“I look forward to working hard every day to make sure the voices of Iowans are heard every step of the way and our priorities stay at the forefront of the agenda of the 116th Congress.”
Representative-elect Cindy Axne (IA-03) declined to endorse anyone for speaker during the campaign, when Republicans spent heavily on radio and television commercials tying her to Pelosi. On November 27 she signed the following open letter with 19 other first-term Democrats.
We, as incoming Members-elect, are writing to formally declare our support for Leader Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House in the 116th Congress.
For all of us, the path to Congress was one rooted in the good we want to do for the people in our communities. Together, we will work towards making health care affordable, reinvesting in the middle class, and changing our political system.
Leader Pelosi’s work has made a difference in the lives of people we all represent. As Speaker, she delivered health care to millions of Americans, and voters put us back into the majority largely because of our promises to protect and expand people’s access to that care. Her experience in moving legislation forward on this issue will be crucial as we work to improve our healthcare system, reduce the costs of prescription drugs, and ensure that everyone can afford high-quality healthcare. As we fight for strong gun violence prevention laws that keep our kids and communities safe, as we address immigration reform and protect our Dreamers, and as we begin to restore faith in government, we need leadership at the helm who knows how to get things done. We are confident that Leader Pelosi is committed to working in a bipartisan fashion whenever possible without compromising our values, and will help us start to change the tone and rhetoric coming out of Washington.
The incoming class of first-term members is younger and more diverse than ever before. A proven leader like Leader Pelosi will be a valuable resource as we, ourselves, step up to lead, and as we work to make life better for the people we represent.
More than anything, we were elected to deliver. Let’s move forward. Let’s make change happen, together.
The case for House Democrats to dump Pelosi is weak. So what if she’s a hate figure for the right-wing noise machine? Republicans suffered a net loss of 40 seats after attempting to make many House races a referendum on the California Democrat. If Democrats threw Pelosi overboard, Fox News and conservative talk radio would simply demonize the next speaker. As Charles Pierce wrote in this excellent commentary, “The only argument that the #FiveWhiteGuys have that might resonate with their new progressive colleagues is that Pelosi is old and has been in Congress for a long time. Period. That’s not enough to dispense with the party’s most effective legislative leader since Lyndon Johnson.”
How effective is Pelosi? She convinced fellow Congressional Democrats to hold the line when President George W. Bush wanted to privatize Social Security. As speaker, she got many major pieces of legislation through the lower chamber. (It’s not her fault that Senate Republicans filibustered some of them.) Stakeholders who worked on the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and 2010 say Pelosi’s actions were critical to passing a broad health care reform bill, when some in Congress favored small-scale action, like expanding coverage for children.
Loebsack, Finkenauer, and Axne made the right choice.
Top image: Cropped from a photo of Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer, during orientation week for new members of Congress on November 14.