It’s a confusing time for Democrats in the House—there are at least two factions who oppose the continuing leadership of Nancy Pelosi in the aftermath of the party’s midterm victories, but those two factions are ideologically on opposite sides of Pelosi. The progressive left believes she has been too accommodating to corporate interests and, along with Chuck Schumer, far too eager to compromise with a Republican party that has no interest in reciprocating. On Pelosi’s right, however, are a group of super-centrist Democrats, many of whom flipped Republican seats in part because of a vow to oppose her. For this group, Pelosi is symbolically the liberal bogey woman, and they want someone who is far more conservative. So while the two sides share a superficial goal, the fight to actually replace her would be fraught with political tension.
However, that fight will probably never come to pass. According to Pelosi, she has the votes to win the speaker’s gavel. As the New York Times notes, the whole situation has become even messier due to the belief, held by many in the party, that a woman should continue to lead:
The fight over Representative Nancy Pelosi’s quest for the speaker’s gavel has become charged with the delicate and timely issue of gender, as Democrats wrestle with the importance of keeping a woman in the top job after a “pink wave” delivered the party back to the majority.
As Ms. Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, insisted on Thursday that she had enough support for the speakership, some of her newly elected female colleagues dismissed the notion that it was paramount to have a woman at the top. And some of her male critics — mindful of the optics of dumping the highest-ranking woman in American political history — began floating the names of other women to replace her.
The leaders of the center-left anti-Pelosi faction, including Ohio’s Tim Ryan, have been attacked as #FiveWhiteGuys on Twitter, where #resistance liberals are re-drawing the battle lines from the 2016 presidential race and bringing gender and sexism accusations to the forefront. Ryan responded as you might expect, saying “there’s plenty of really competent females that we can replace her with,” and singling out fellow Ohioan Marcia Fudge as an example.
Pelosi’s response: “Come on in, the water’s warm.”
In truth, despite a vocal opposition, there is no one candidate that has stepped forward to credibly challenge Pelosi, and certainly no one that the opposition has united behind. However, an obstructionist tactic can work mathematically—Pelosi needs 218 votes to secure the role, and assuming that no Republicans vote for her, the 17 Democrats who signed a letter opposing her would be enough to keep her short of the necessary votes.
As with the democratic primary in 2016, the media focus on gender disguises a more significant divide—the generational one. Pelosi, like Hillary Clinton, has the support of older members of Congress, while those who want change skew younger.
In the end, Pelosi commands by far the most votes of any sub-faction on the left, which means her ultimate victory is all but inevitable. Even if the Ryan group were to succeed based on holding back 20 or so votes, there’s no reality in which someone more acceptable to them would be able to earn the 200+ votes necessary to win—Pelosi commands too much loyalty, and obstruction would meet obstruction in turn.