By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi believes she has the votes to retake the speakership of the House of Representatives, she told reporters on Thursday, despite a string of critics within her party who have said they would oppose her bid.
“I intend to win the speakership with Democratic votes … I have overwhelming support in my caucus to be speaker of the House,” Pelosi, a liberal from San Francisco, said at a news conference. “I happen to think that at this point, I’m the best person for that.”
Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in a midterm congressional vote on Nov. 6, while Republicans held on to a majority in the Senate.
Pelosi, who has led the House Democratic party for 16 years, wants to reclaim the House’s top job of speaker, which she held from 2007 to 2011. The House speaker is next in the line of presidential succession, after the vice president.
A small but vocal group of Democrats has argued that the 78-year-old Pelosi should step aside and allow change, saying she has not encouraged a younger generation of Democrats to move into leadership positions.
Pelosi, who is unpopular with many voters, has become a punching bag for Republicans in recent campaigns, and her critics say some Democratic candidates had to oppose Pelosi in order to be able to win swing districts this year.
Pelosi rejects the criticism, and her backers argue that she has the experience as speaker to challenge President Donald Trump and has offered a legislative agenda that includes key Democratic goals such as raising the federal minimum wage and investing in climate-friendly infrastructure.
She is also a prodigious fundraiser, a tireless campaigner and has an impressive record, including passage of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, when she was last speaker. Protecting that law – which has been repeatedly attacked by Republicans – was a top issue for Democrats in their successful campaign for the House.
While Pelosi is expected to win an internal party vote that should take place in two weeks, it is not clear if she has the necessary support for a House floor vote for speaker in January, when both Democrats and Republicans will be voting.
Seventeen Democrats have signed a letter pledging not to back Pelosi during the House floor vote, Democratic aides said. Asked about the letter, Pelosi told reporters they should ask the signatories, 14 of whom she said were men, what their motivations were.
No challenger has emerged to Pelosi, although Representative Marcia Fudge, a former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, has told some media outlets that she is considering a bid.
Fudge, a 66-year-old liberal who represents a district in northeastern Ohio, has been agitating over the past few years for new leadership in House Democratic ranks. She was a supporter of Representative Tim Ryan’s failed bid in 2016 to unseat Pelosi as Democratic leader.
“Come on in, the water’s warm,” Pelosi said when asked about Fudge.
Pelosi said she would never accept help from Republicans to win the speaker’s post.
Ryan said on Wednesday he had no interest in running against Pelosi again, and named Fudge as a possibility.
Ryan also warned that some incoming Democratic freshmen, who won seats from Republicans in the recent midterm vote, could lose next time if they renege on their campaign promises to oppose Pelosi.
“When you win, saying one thing, you can’t come down here and have the leadership ask you on your first vote to go back on your word,” Ryan said.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; additional reporting by Richard Cowan and David Morgan; Writing by Makini Brice and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Susan Heavey and Bernadette Baum)