WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nancy Pelosi was expected on Wednesday to become the Democratic nominee for speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, giving her the inside track to reclaim the House’s top job in January, when critics in her own party may seek to block her.
The 78-year-old San Francisco liberal, a frequent target of Republican critics, faces a small faction of Democrats who are refusing to back her for the post in which she made history from 2007 to 2011 as the first woman speaker.
Pelosi critic Representative Kathleen Rice said on Tuesday that while the rebels could not stop Pelosi from getting the Democratic caucus’ nomination for speaker at a closed-door party meeting on Wednesday, they could block her election on Jan. 3 when Pelosi must win a majority of the whole House, both Republicans and Democrats, to become speaker.
“We know what’s going to happen tomorrow. The issue is still going to be whether she can get the votes on the floor. And the votes just aren’t there,” Rice told reporters outside the House.
No one has stepped forward to directly challenge Pelosi in Wednesday’s party election.
Maneuvering to win over her opponents, Pelosi sent her staff and a key ally, Representative Jim McGovern, to meet on Tuesday with Democratic members of a bipartisan group known as the Problem Solvers Caucus. They want Pelosi, currently the House Democratic leader, to back reforms in how the House operates.
The meeting was “encouraging and productive,” said Representative Josh Gottheimer, who added that work on the rule changes would continue with Pelosi and McGovern.
Another Problem Solvers Caucus member, Representative Dan Lipinski, said: “I really doubt whether anything for me personally can come together quick enough” for him to back Pelosi on Wednesday.
With a record of achievement that includes passage of 2010’s Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, Pelosi argues she is still best qualified to be speaker, rejecting critics’ demands for new, younger leadership.
Democrats won control of the House from Republicans in the Nov. 6 congressional elections widely seen as a referendum on President Donald Trump. His fellow Republicans added to their Senate majority.
Democrats have gained at least 38 House seats, with outcomes unclear in a couple of races. Pelosi’s detractors say 17 or 18 Democratic opponents would be enough to block her becoming speaker in January, assuming all Republicans vote against her.
Sixteen Democrats have signed a letter saying they will not vote for her, and several others who have not signed say they oppose her.
Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Bill Trott and Peter Cooney