House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s margin for error is slim today, when lawmakers return to Washington to officially usher in a new session of Congress and elect their new speaker.
After serving 17 years as Democrats’ leader, Pelosi is running unopposed. But the looming threat of coronavirus paired with the Democrats’ smallest majority in decades means Pelosi and her deputies are carefully counting votes to ensure she can avoid any embarrassment on the House floor.
“She’s very aware. If Nancy can do anything, it is that she knows how to count. She is counting every vote,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Democrat from Virginia. “She is very aware of the fact that with a slim majority — with some members who voted against her two years ago — there is gonna have to be an effort to persuade them that that was then and this is now. We cannot afford to have uncertainty about the speakership.”
On Monday, Pelosi’s office sent requests to chiefs of staff in Democratic offices across the Hill, inquiring whether their bosses would be physically present for the vote.
In order to win the speakership, a member must receive at least 50% of the vote plus one. All members who vote must be in DC in person because the vote for speaker will occur before the House passes its rules package containing the provisions that have allowed Democrats to vote by proxy for months.
Aides estimate Pelosi will have a roughly a 10-vote margin, depending on if an outstanding congressional race in New York is called by Sunday. That means she can afford to lose just a handful of members from across the ideological spectrum. In 2018, there were 15 Democrats who did not vote for her as speaker. Ten of them are returning.