WASHINGTON — Nancy Pelosi was nominated by fellow Democrats to be House speaker on Wednesday, but she still faces a showdown vote when the full House convenes in January.
Pelosi entered the closed-door caucus election in an unusual position — running unopposed for the nomination despite the clamor by some Democrats for new leadership. The lopsided 203-32 tally showed both the weakness of her opposition but also the challenges ahead.
The California Democrat has been deftly picking off opponents — including nine who announced their support as voting was underway — a trend she'll need to accelerate to reach the 218-vote threshold for election when Democrats take control of the chamber in the new year.
"Are there dissenters? Yes," the California Democrat told reporters as the ballots were being counted. "But I expect to have a powerful vote going forward."
Pelosi was nominated by Rep. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts, with no fewer than eight colleagues seconding the choice, including Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the civil rights leader, and three newly elected lawmakers.
As House Democrats met in private in the Capitol, they faced a simple "yes" or "no" choice.
A sign of the party's mood emerged early as the House Democrats elected Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York as caucus chairman, elevating the charismatic 48-year-old from the Congressional Black Caucus as a new generation of leaders pushes to the forefront.
His slim victory in that race, 123-113 over veteran Rep. Barbara Lee of California, another influential member of the Black Caucus, offered a window into the shifting landscape. Flanked by top progressive leaders, Lee made her pitch during the closed session, drawing on the record number of women, including minority women, who ran for office and are entering the new Congress.
The majority, though, went to Jeffries who used his speech to remind Democrats of their core accomplishments — from passage of the Civil Rights Act to the Affordable Care Act — before pivoting to his vision for the future.
"I'm focused on standing up for everyone — white, black, Latino, Asian, Native American — every single American deserves us, here in the United States Congress to work, Democrats and Republicans, on their behalf to make their life better," he said afterward.
Democrats voted to return their entire top leadership team, including Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland in the No. 2 spot as majority leader and Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina in the No. 3 spot as whip. They were running unopposed.
In a letter to colleagues ahead of voting, Pelosi gave a nod to those clamoring for change.
"We all agree that history is in a hurry, and we need to accelerate the pace of change in Congress," she wrote, noting the "historic" class of new first-term lawmakers, the largest since Watergate, who led Democrats to the majority in the midterm election.
Pelosi's opponents had pledged to usher in a new era for Democrats. But one by one, the powerful California congresswoman picked off the would-be challengers and smoothed skeptics.
Ahead of voting Wednesday, a deal was reached with the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group whose nine Democratic members were withholding their support as they pushed for rules changes to allow a more open legislative process.
But another group against her, led by Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles and Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York, left the leader's office empty-handed. They asked Pelosi to publicly release her plans to transition out of leadership before the end of the next term in 2020. She declined, they said.