Why Pelosi will be the next speaker even though Dems don't really want her

Politico reports that the opposition to Nancy Pelosi becoming speaker of the House is crumbling as the reality of dumping a Democratic Party icon hits home.

The rebels signed a letter last week saying they would not vote for Pelosi to be speaker.  At that point, it looked as though the California Democrat was in real trouble, as the signees were just a couple of votes short of denying her a majority.

But as the senior Democrat in Washington, Pelosi has a lot of leverage.  She bought off her main challenger, Rep. Marcia Fudge, by giving her a prized chairmanship of the subcommittee on elections.  Several other potential rebels have bowed to the inevitable and are now backing her.

The anti-Pelosi forces have been struggling to regain their footing in the past several days after the longtime Democratic leader picked off two of their members, including a potential challenger.  And the conflict over strategy among the group's dozen-plus members threatens to thwart their plan to deny Pelosi the gavel.

Still, the group got a much-needed boost on Monday: Rep.-elect Gil Cisneros of California, whose race was just called, has signed on to the group's letter vowing to defeat Pelosi on the House floor.

If the rebels don't put up a strong showing of opposition when members meet for a closed-door caucus vote on Wednesday, their effort could run aground well ahead of the official vote on the House floor on Jan. 3.

"I'm trying to replace the current leadership of the Democratic Party," said Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon, one of the rebels who is not interested in a potential deal with Pelosi that Moulton floated Monday.  "We need somebody who is a fresher face, that voters don't identify with the old establishment, who is new, that shows Democrats have chosen a new direction[.] ... We don't want her to be the face of the party."

Talk of a "new direction" scares the daylights out of many establishment Democrats, who see the rebellion as a bid by party radicals to drive the Democrats even farther left.  The newcomers are feeling empowered by their victories and want to make a strong statement on the direction of the party going forward.

Pelosi, even though she is a San Francisco liberal, just isn't radical enough and is too easy a target for Republicans:

Sources inside the rebel camp say the group has not communicated effectively and is struggling because of a lack of organization.

Pelosi's team has accused her critics of being sexist and espousing values that are contrary to the progressive energy that helped lead the party back to the majority.  And while she leans on her powerful allies on the outside to make this case, her critics don't have the same microphone or connections to push back on the accusations

Some signers of the letter calling for Pelosi's ouster have also said their letter should not have zeroed in solely on Pelosi.  They regret that it did not mention Hoyer and Clyburn, too.

But doing so would have no doubt divided the group, some of whose members have strong relationships with the No. 2 and No. 3 leaders.

House Democrats will meet on Wednesday for closed-door leadership elections at which Pelosi needs to win a simple majority.  But to seize the gavel again, she'll need to persuade half of the House – usually 218 votes – to back her on the floor in January.

This is the Democrat's dilemma.  Those who want change at the top can't agree on who should replace the former speaker.  Hoyer and Clyburn would be equally unacceptable to many in the rebel camp.  And there is simply no Democrat with a national profile whom the caucus could unite around.

So even though not very many Democrats really want Pelosi as speaker, most of them are too afraid of being branded "sexist," or worried about what the powerful speaker could do to them, to vote against. 

Despite everything – questions about her mental acuity and her energy and the fact that she is a tired, old face of the party – Pelosi will most likely be speaker when the House convenes next January.

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