WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic heavyweights are turning up the pressure on a group of party lawmakers who oppose making Nancy Pelosi the next speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, urging them to drop their objections and unite behind her.
Party luminaries like John Kerry and Al Gore, both former presidential nominees, have been calling Pelosi’s Democratic opponents inside the House, sources familiar with the effort said.
Tom Wolf and Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governors of Pennsylvania and New York, have joined the effort, the sources said.
Representative Jamie Raskin said he was among the House Democrats pushing for Pelosi.
“I think a lot of us are approaching our colleagues and telling them that we need to de-escalate and reconcile as quickly as possible,” he said.
Some of Pelosi’s foes, who argue that she and other top House Democratic leaders have dominated the scene for too long, complained about the pressure.
“The establishment is coming down on members of Congress who have said they weren’t voting for her. They’re getting hammered by fundraising people, they’re getting hammered by lobbyists, they’re getting their arm twisted, and they are being asked to completely flip their position,” said Tim Ryan, one of the ringleaders of the anti-Pelosi group in the House.
“So you know that’s a lot for people to deal with when the entire Democratic establishment is circling the wagons, and we’re trying to bring change,” Ryan said, adding that some Democratic donors were also calling to urge support for Pelosi.
Pelosi made history as the first woman to hold the top post in the House when she was speaker from 2007 to 2011.
With Democrats winning back a majority in the House in the Nov. 6 congressional elections, Pelosi is campaigning to return to the job and won her party’s nomination in a 203-32 vote of House Democrats on Wednesday. [nL2N1Y31CH]
But those 32 votes against her mean she is still not certain of victory when all House lawmakers - Democrats and Republicans - vote for the next speaker on Jan. 3. She is unlikely to get any Republican votes.
Pelosi, 78, a liberal from San Francisco, will need about 218 votes to become speaker again.
Democrats will hold at least 234 seats in the new House, so Pelosi can afford to lose roughly 17 votes from her own party’s ranks.
“She’s hovering very near that number,” Representative Gerald Connolly, a Pelosi backer, said on Thursday.
Pelosi can try to pick off opponents with promises to pursue pet projects in the new Congress next year. She can also lure them with her influence on committee assignments and her known prowess at fundraising.
“I wouldn’t bet against Nancy Pelosi, but it’s going to be a near thing,” Connolly said.
Pelosi’s Democratic foes say they do not want to elect a Republican as speaker. Instead, they want to create a situation where no one gets a majority on the first ballot - so the Democrats will be forced to go back to their caucus to get a candidate other than Pelosi.
No one has stepped forward so far.
Pelosi is a savvy legislator, but is unpopular with many voters and has become a punching bag for Republicans.
Some Democratic candidates who won swing districts in the election had made campaign pledges to oppose Pelosi as speaker and are reluctant to be seen backing her now.
The hard-core opposition to Pelosi initially came from 16 members who signed a letter against her. She has picked off one lawmaker already and another says he could be persuaded. But some known Pelosi opponents did not sign the letter.
Some Democrats, like Representative-elect Jeff Van Drew, voted against Pelosi on Wednesday but have left the door open to voting “present” on Jan. 3. That would lower the numerical threshold Pelosi needs to cross. To win, she needs a majority of those voting for someone by name.
Representative Brian Higgins, who signed the anti-Pelosi letter, then changed his mind, said some other opponents “are looking for an out.” He urged them to lobby Pelosi for plum committee appointments and their favorite legislative projects.
Higgins said he decided to support Pelosi last week when she agreed to a “good faith effort” to open the Medicare healthcare program for seniors to people as young as age 50.
Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Ginger Gibson; Editing by Peter Cooney