US House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi arrives for a closed organisational meeting of Democrats to elect leaders for the 116th Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, the US, November 28 2018. Picture: REUTERS/JIM YOUNG
US House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi arrives for a closed organisational meeting of Democrats to elect leaders for the 116th Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, the US, November 28 2018. Picture: REUTERS/JIM YOUNG

Nancy Pelosi, a pillar of American politics for nearly two decades, is expected to move a step closer towards becoming the next speaker of the House of Representatives as her fellow Democrats on Wednesday steered towards nominating her to the powerful job.

Fresh from their November 6 election victories giving them majority control of the House in 2019, Democrats will meet behind closed doors to elect their leaders for the new Congress that convenes in January and to nominate a speaker.

A small group of Democratic dissidents has been trying to derail her bid.

The 78-year-old Californian is attempting the rare feat of securing the speaker’s gavel for a non-consecutive term, having become the first female speaker in US history in 2007.

Her run as speaker ended in 2011, however, when Republicans took over the House only to lose their majority in this month’s midterm elections.

The House speaker sets the chamber’s legislative agenda and is second, behind the vice-president, in the line of succession if the president were to die in office or become incapacitated.

Pelosi, currently House Democratic leader, must clear two hurdles in her quest.

The band of Democrats trying to deny her the speakership argue that the party needs a shot of new, younger leaders to steer the House as it prepares to challenge President Donald Trump’s political and legislative agendas in 2019-2020.

In a peculiar strategy, however, these Democrats have failed to produce an opponent to run against Pelosi. As a result, she is thought to enjoy the support of most of her colleagues on Wednesday.

But Pelosi’s detractors think they have a chance of controlling just enough votes to demonstrate that they can topple her on the second hurdle by banding together with Republicans in an early January vote by the full House to formally elect a speaker.

Democrats will then hold at least 233 of the House’s 435 seats. Assuming that all Republicans vote against Pelosi for speaker, just 17 or 18 Democratic opponents could be enough to block her from becoming speaker.

In that case, the renegades argue, the Democrats would be forced to find another candidate.

Late on Tuesday, Pelosi worked to demonstrate her political muscle, touting supporters far beyond her base of liberal backers.

Moderate Democratic representative Henry Cuellar, in a letter to his colleagues, noted that over the past 14 years he probably cast more votes against Pelosi than any other Democrat. Yet, he wrote in supporting her candidacy, “Leader Pelosi has consistently made certain that dissenting voices, including my own, have a seat at the table.”

She has pledged to pursue an agenda that includes investing in infrastructure projects, lowering prescription drug prices and changing campaign finance laws to give small donors more sway in elections.

Pelosi has also promised to hold investigations into Trump administration activities following two years of lax oversight by Republicans who will still hold their majority in the Senate.

Reuters