When the incoming members of the U.S. House of Representatives convene on Jan. 3 to elect a speaker for the next House, Nancy Pelosi, the chamber’s Democratic leader since 2003, is certain she has the votes.
But for the first time, Pelosi and her top deputies — Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader-designee, and James Clyburn of South Carolina, the majority whip-designee — will assume power with self-imposed term limits, vowing to step aside after at most four years in the positions.
Both developments are thanks to Ed Perlmutter, the Arvada Democrat who won an eighth term in Congress in November and brokered the deal a month later between Pelosi and enough Democrats to ensure her the votes in exchange for a plan to pass the torch.
“I just feel like we need to allow young people to start really rising,” Perlmutter told supporters at a recent gathering in Jefferson County to thank campaign volunteers. “We have so much talent, and especially with this new class that's coming in. We have 60 new (Democratic) members of Congress. My effort was to start really getting some change.”
Pelosi didn’t draw a prominent challenger for another term in the post she last held for four years between 2007 and 2011, the last time the Democrats had a majority in the House. Still, her bid was met with skepticism from dozens of Democrats who argued the party needed new leadership. A decade-long campaign by Republicans attacking Pelosi didn’t help.
“The one thing we really learned is there are kind of two realities,” Perlmutter said, recounting how he landed at the center of the battle over the speaker’s gavel. “There's the reality of most of America, and how we look at things, and there's the reality of Washington, D.C., where relationships are so key. You develop these relationships over time, and sometimes they don't look at things quite the same way.”
As recounted in a blow-by-blow story by Politico’s Rachael Bade, Heather Caygle and John Bresnahan, Perlmutter led a group of rebels aiming to unseat Pelosi, meeting with her multiple times in Washington as the intrigue over her future deepened.
“I was trying to merge a reality from here which says we need to have some change in Washington, D.C. — and so many candidates ran on change — but also recognize that the relationships that have been built over a long time to get things done and all that, it's not that easy to change those overnight,” Perlmutter told his supporters.
“So I've been in this battle — whatever you want to call it — about changing our leadership. Our leadership has been in the same position for 16 years, and felt like it was time for a change. After having had probably a dozen conversations with Nancy Pelosi over the last three or four weeks, I recognized that she is the one that should be leading us right now. But she also recognizes that change needs to start happening.”
In meeting after meeting, Perlmutter and Pelosi hatched a deal to establish the term limits — she’ll need the support of two-thirds of her caucus if she wants another term as speaker, but that will be her final one.
Several other rebels had made their peace with Pelosi by the time Perlmutter’s plan emerged, so he was able to bring enough votes to her side to ensure a win.
“We're going to start having some succession planning, some leadership training for folks, and a recognition from leadership that the torch has to be passed,” Perlmutter said. “At the end of the day, I think we kind of got the best of both worlds, which is leaders really ready and who know what they're doing right now, to deal with a White House that is erratic, at best — but a recognition and a sense that they're there for the challenges that will come in the future.”
He added: “You take on challenges from time to time if you think they're necessary, and I feel good about the result that occurred here.”
Two other Colorado Democratic House members — Diana DeGette of Denver, elected to her 12th term in November, and Joe Neguse, who won the Boulder-focused 2nd Congressional District seat relinquished by Gov.-elect Jared Polis — say they’ll vote for Pelosi for speaker, but the other new Democratic member of the delegation insists he won’t.
Democrat Jason Crow has been taking a different approach than Perlmutter. After unseating five-term Republican Mike Coffman — running on a promise that he wouldn’t vote to hand the speaker’s gavel to Pelosi no matter what — Crow has maintained that he isn’t going to change his mind, though it wasn’t clear how Crow intends to vote when the next House convenes.
“Jason won't be supporting Nancy Pelosi for speaker,” his spokesperson told Trail Mix. “He will vote for new leadership to move our country forward.”
As it stands, the Democratic caucus will nominate Pelosi for speaker and the Republican caucus will nominate U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California.
Crow has said he won’t vote “present” at the speaker’s election, an option a handful of House members have taken over the years when they don’t support either major party’s nominee. But at press time, it appeared only Pelosi and McCarthy would be nominated, leaving few options for Crow.