WASHINGTON — House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi won her party's nomination Wednesday for House speaker, but she faces a final five-week campaign to win over enough of her caucus members who voted against her to clinch the job in January.
Despite a small but determined opposition, Pelosi, 78, a San Francisco liberal who has led her party’s caucus for 15 years, prevailed as expected, with support from 203 of the Democratic caucus members in a closed-door secret-ballot.
But 32 Democrats voted against her, and three submitted blank ballots, although Pelosi ran unopposed.
Pelosi and a retinue of supporters emerged after the vote— to declare victory and thank her members who supported her.
"Our diversity is our strength. Our unity is our power," she said.
Pelosi downplayed a blistering statement issued by Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) complaining that Pelosi had "dismissed" the concerns of caucus members demanding a leadership change.
"I'm talking about scores of members of Congress who just gave me a vote, are giving me a vote of confidence. That's where our focus is," Pelosi said. "Are there dissenters? Yes, but I expect to have a powerful vote as we go forward."
Pelosi now must whittle the opposition in her caucus so that she gets at least 218 Democratic votes in the Jan. 3 election by the 435 members from both parties in the House to reclaim the speaker’s gavel that she wielded as the first woman speaker from 2007 to 2011.
Pelosi can afford to lose support from only 16 Democratic votes in the House election.
Some members said they won't be budged.
Rice, a leader of 16 members who signed a letter opposing Pelosi, struck out at the leader before the vote and said her bloc would vote against the leader in the caucus and on the floor.
"Moments ago we met with Leader Pelosi and tried to engage her in a reasonable conversation about leadership transition. Unfortunately, our concerns were dismissed outright," Rice said in the statement.
"I think the people need to know when this leadership plans on turning the reins over to the next generation of leaders," Rice told reporters after the vote. "There has to be some succession plans, there has to be some transition."
Two years ago, Rice was one of 65 Democrats who voted for Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) in his challenge to Pelosi, who won with 134 votes in the caucus election, and one of five Democrats who did not vote for her on the House floor.
But Pelosi might be able to persuade new members that they can say they tried to remove her in the caucus, but supported her in the House vote against the GOP speaker candidate, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
And just before the caucus vote, Pelosi announced an agreement with the Problem Solvers Caucus, ending the withholding of the votes of nine members, including Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove).
"She has my enthusiastic support," Suozzi said in a phone interview.
Pelosi agreed to require the speaker to send bills with 290 sponsors, and amendments with 20 sponsors from each party, to the floor for debate and a vote, among other things. But she drew the line at allowing each member to bring up legislation in committee if sponsored by a member from each side.
"We gave in on that," Suozzi said.
House Democrats voted to approve caucus rules, and also voted 123-113 to elect Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn), 48, a rising star, as caucus chair in a tight race with Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), 72, a favorite of liberals.
The House also elected Pelosi's longtime colleagues to top posts — Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) as House majority leader, and Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) as majority whip.