House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks during her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington
By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrat Nancy Pelosi vowed on Thursday to retake the speakership of the U.S. House of Representatives even as a string of critics within her party have said they will 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 congressional elections on Nov. 6, while Republicans held their majority in the Senate.
Pelosi, who has led Democrats in the House for 16 years, wants to reclaim the top job of speaker she held from 2007 to 2011, when she was the first woman in that post. 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 is unpopular with many voters and has become a punching bag for Republicans.
Some Democratic candidates who won swing districts this month made campaign pledges to oppose Pelosi as speaker. Pelosi's critics say such pledges opened the door to victory.
Pelosi's backers say the former speaker has the experience needed to challenge President Donald Trump and has offered a legislative agenda that includes 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 a record that includes passage of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, when she was last speaker. Protecting that law from repeated attacks by Republicans was a top issue for Democrats in their successful campaign for the House.
While Pelosi still has more support as leader than anyone else inside the Democratic caucus, which will pick its candidate for speaker on Nov. 28, she might not have enough to get the 218 votes she would need when the full House, including Republicans, votes on Jan. 3.
DESIRE FOR CHANGE
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 she is considering a bid. Fudge, 66, a liberal from northeastern Ohio, supported Representative Tim Ryan's failed bid in 2016 to unseat Pelosi as Democratic leader.
Fudge told the HuffPost on Thursday that some people oppose Pelosi because they see her as an elitist, "and I think to some degree she is."
Representative Kathleen Rice of New York, another Pelosi critic, told reporters that Pelosi's opposition in the Democratic caucus was "north of 25" people and "once we are able to show the leader cannot get to 218 votes, whether it's Marcia (Fudge) or others, (people) are going to throw their hat in the ring."
Even some of Pelosi's supporters acknowledged a bottled-up desire for change among Democrats after many years with Pelosi at the helm.
"I'm supporting Nancy because no one is more skilled and has earned it," said Representative Gerald Connolly of Virginia. "Having said that, there's a huge desire that's quite understandable for change."
Others asked how the party could turn on Pelosi after last week's House wins. "We just won more victories than at any point since Watergate with Nancy Pelosi as our leader," said Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist and former spokesman for Hillary Clinton.
Doug Heye, a Republican strategist who launched a “Fire Pelosi” campaign in 2010 when he was with the Republican National Committee, said pent-up frustration among Democratic members for a path to party leadership was legitimate – but that it would be “foolish” for them to oust Pelosi in the speaker’s race.
"When I was at the RNC we didn’t launch a "Fire Pelosi" campaign because she was ineffective. It was because she was effective," Heye said in an interview.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Ginger Gibson, Amanda Becker and David Morgan; Editing by Kieran Murray and Peter Cooney)