Nancy Pelosi is re-elected as Speaker of the House with a narrow Democratic majority

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Nancy Pelosi was elected House speaker as the new session of Congress began with a narrower Democratic majority that will present her with multiple challenges in what could be her final two year term in the top post.

Pelosi, 80, the only woman to hold the speaker’s gavel, was selected again with 216 votes, a majority of those present, despite a clamor from both the progressive and moderate wings of her party for a new generation of leadership. Republicans nominated their leader, Kevin McCarthy, to run against her. He received 209 votes.

For the past two years, Pelosi has been the Democrats’ main foil for President Donald Trump, and that’s helped keep her caucus unified despite the ideological spread from progressives like New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to centrists like Representative Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey. For the next term, Pelosi’s challenge is to keep the party marching behind President-elect Joe Biden’s agenda.

The Democratic advantage in the House has shrunk to 222-211 -- with two seats still open -- after Republican gains in the November election.

There was no challenger to Pelosi’s leadership among Democrats. The young, recently elected progressives who’ve been most vocal about the need for fresh leadership all backed her for speaker, including Ocasio-Cortez.

“We are just an extremely slim amount of votes away from risking the speakership to the Republican Party and this is, it’s bigger than any one of us,” Ocasio-Cortez said after the vote. “When the Republican Party is attempting an electoral coup and trying to overturn the results of our election, this is not just about being united as a party, it’s about being united as people who, with basic respect for rule of law.”

Another progressive, Jamaal Bowman of New York, who ousted a veteran Democrat in a primary to win his seat in the 2020 election, said, “Our country needs stability right now and it is really important for the Democratic Party to come together.”

He added that after conversations with Pelosi he is “very, very confident” that progressive priorities like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal will be brought to the floor.

Pelosi did suffer some defections among Democrats who represent swing districts with significant numbers of Republican voters.

Democrats Jared Golden of Maine voted for Senator Tammy Duckworth and Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, voted for New York’s Hakeem Jeffries, a member of Pelosi’s leadership team.

Three other Democrats who, like Golden and Lamb, didn’t vote for Pelosi as speaker in 2019 voted present: Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia.

“Last Congress, I kept my promise to vote for new leadership upon my swearing-in – and in this Congress, I remain consistent in my commitment to ushering in new leadership,” Spanberger said in a statement.

The vote took longer than usual due to procedures in place because of the pandemic. House members entered the chamber in groups to cast their votes.

Illustrating the coronavirus risks and the stakes for Pelosi, a special booth was constructed in the House gallery to allow voting by at least three members who are technically in quarantine because of exposure to Covid-19. Procedures that allowed for proxy voting in the last Congress haven’t been adopted in the current session.


Two Democrats and one Republican are expected to use the structure at the direction of the attending physician of Congress, Brian Monahan, according to an official.

Republican Representative Rodney Davis was among the GOP members who blasted the accommodation.

“This is against everything we have been told during the course of this pandemic for House operations,” Davis said. “To build this structure in the dark of the night only to only protect the votes that Pelosi needs to get re-elected speaker is shameful.”

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