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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to be reelected leader of the chamber on Sunday, continuing her control of the majority at a time of questions about the path ahead for Congress and who may take the gavel after her.
Democrats will have a tighter majority after the November election, which means there is little room for dissent if Pelosi is to be reelected. In 2019, several Democrats voted for someone else to lead the chamber. Pelosi can’t afford to lose that many again.
Pelosi, a California Democrat, is 80 and has served in Congress for 33 years. She already received the support of the Democratic caucus in a November election, but Sunday’s vote, with the arrival of the new Congress, would make her position as speaker official.
Pelosi hinted last year that this might be her final term as the leader of the House. She has no clear heir apparent, and her closest deputies, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, are 81 and 80.
A more divided House
Pelosi has sought to knit together a caucus divided between relatively moderate suburban members and much more liberal urban ones. Although Democrats have preserved their majority, the speaker and her lieutenants presided over a net loss of seats in the 2020 election.
Democrats have groused among themselves about the causes of the losses in 2020. One complaint has been that the party’s failure to repudiate issues said to be perceived by voters as extreme, such as “defund the police,” hurt it with the moderate voters it sought amid the broader presidential election.
The most liberal members, including New York Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, reject the idea that Democrats’ messaging tacked too far left. Managing the tension between the two sides will be a big challenge as Pelosi continues her stewardship of the majority.
The game has changed
Much of the speaker’s workload will shift, however, from resisting a Republican administration to helping advance the goals of her fellow Democrat, President-elect Joe Biden. Pelosi likely will work every opportunity available to help pass Biden’s agenda, including more coronavirus relief legislation.
But the immediate focus in Washington and national politics has shifted to the Senate, control of which is up for grabs depending on the outcome of Tuesday’s runoff elections in Georgia. If Republicans preserve their majority in the upper chamber, they’ll likely prevent Biden and Pelosi from achieving many of their aims.
Although it is seen as a less likely outcome, if Democrats win the Georgia races and give the party a slim majority in the Senate, the whole ballgame will change, and Pelosi will march into her new term as speaker with far greater power.