How Nancy Pelosi could lose the speakership to Kevin McCarthy

Is karma going to come calling for Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats? I know that it sounds crazy, yet another improbable scenario in a season when our hopes have been dashed repeatedly after hearing predictions that a stolen presidential election would be rectified in the courts. But the scenario that follows is far from impossible, given House rules for voting in person, the tiniest House of Representatives majority (9 votes) in decades, the deep ideological split within the Democrats (downplayed or ignored by the partisan media) and the fading lucidity of Nancy Pelosi.

Mike Lillis and Scott Wong of The Hill point out that

…lawmakers must be present on the House floor to cast their vote for Speaker, precluding the option for members to vote remotely, as many have done throughout the pandemic. [emphasis added]

This differs from the rules under which House members have been voting since COVID became a factor.  Matt Margolis of PJ Media explains:

While House members can vote by proxy due to emergency rules adopted in May to protect members from getting and spreading COVID-19, but, as The Hill reports, “the proxy-voting rule expires with the new Congress, requiring lawmakers to be in the Capitol in person if they want to participate in the Jan. 3 floor vote for Speaker.”

New rules governing the 117th Congress happen after the vote for speaker.

House Democrats have been taking advantage of this proxy-voting rule in significant numbers. On December 18, nearly 90 Democrats voted by proxy.

Lillis and Wong point out that 2 years ago, Pelosi lost the votes of 15 House Democrats, enough to deny her the speakership this time around, and this time there will be defections:

… at least three moderate members of the caucus are already on record saying they don't intend to vote for Pelosi on Jan. 3: Reps. Conor Lamb (Pa.), Jared Golden (Maine) and Elissa Slotkin (Mich.). 

But the peril of Republicans capturing the Speakership would be based on COVID preventing enough Democrats from showing up to vote in person:

A failure of Pelosi to secure support from half the voting members would, at the very least, throw the process into chaos. In the Democrats’ nightmare scenario, the math could tilt so far in the Republicans’ favor that it yields a GOP Speaker.

“Let's say, just theoretically, we had six or eight people out with Covid and the Republicans have none. They probably could elect [Kevin] McCarthy,” said Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), referring to the House GOP leader.   

Lawmakers were reminded of their vulnerability this week, when five more members of the House tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of infected lawmakers to at least 35 since the pandemic hit the U.S. roughly a year ago.

With that in mind, Pelosi’s supporters say it’s an outbreak over the holidays — not Democratic detractors — that poses the single greatest threat to Pelosi’s otherwise-expected Speakership victory next month. 

“We're in a health care crisis, right? No one can get sick. That's the X-factor here,” said one House Democrat, a Pelosi ally, who spoke anonymously to discuss a sensitive topic. “We need everyone to be healthy. ... That's the big fear.”

Democrats are the party of COVID panic, and that may influence attendance:

… several Democrats have ongoing health concerns unrelated to the coronavirus that have kept them from the Capitol for much of the year. A handful of COVID-19 cases on top of that, some fear, could sink Pelosi’s prospects.  

“COVID is a wild card,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.). “If we have sick members who cannot come back, and we only have a four-vote majority, it throws our entire advent of the 117th Congress in peril — a smooth advent.”

Johnson warned that a chaotic Speaker vote on Jan. 3 would highlight internal party divisions at exactly the wrong time — just two days before a pair of special Senate elections in his home state, which will decide who controls the upper chamber for the next two years. 

Add in the anger simmering on the hard left over Biden not filling his potential cabinet with lefties and the existing tensions between Pelosi and The Squad, and the possibility of Pelosi failing to get a majority increase. Margolis explains:

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) believes it’s a real possibility that Republicans could outnumber Democrats for the vote, and the top Republican in the House, Kevin McCarthy, could be elected speaker.

“Let’s say, just theoretically, we had six or eight people out with COVID and the Republicans have none. They probably could elect McCarthy,” Yarmuth told The Hill.

A House Democrat and Pelosi ally who spoke anonymously with The Hill doesn’t deny that a COVID outbreak could sink Pelosi’s chances.

“We’re in a health care crisis, right? No one can get sick. That’s the X-factor here. We need everyone to be healthy… That’s the big fear.”

Another anonymous House Democrat believes Pelosi losing reelection due to absent Democrats is a real possibility. “Obviously, the concern is that with 435 people going all over the country, it’s hard to imagine that not one of us will have the virus on January 3.”

This morning on Fox and Friends, Rep. Elise Sefanik, a very level-headed Republican House member, was taking seriously the possibility that Dems could lose the speakership.

Early January has a lot of potential surprises ahead.

Caricature by Donkey Hotey (cropped) CC-BY-2.0 license

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