If Donald Trump was the most important name not on the midterm ballot in Southern California, Nancy Pelosi clearly was No. 2.
The 76-year-old Democratic icon and former Speaker of the House is so vilified or so embraced, depending on your politics, that her name became shorthand for reporters interviewing Democrats running for the House:
“Pelosi, yes or no?”
Most dodged. But, soon, some of those candidates – the winners – will actually have to answer that question.
In a closed-door session Wednesday that included congressional newcomers, House Democrats tabbed Pelosi to be their party’s nominee for Speaker of the House when the full chamber votes Jan. 3.
But the all-Democratic caucus vote included 32 dissenters. Many – but not all – were newcomers who recently told voters they won’t back Pelosi.
The number, if not the sentiment, poses a hurdle for Pelosi. Though her party is expected to hold 40 new seats when the next session formally begins, she can lose only 17 of those votes and still become Speaker.
It means that Pelosi will have to convince some Democrats to drop their opposition or vote “present,” which would reduce the number needed for a majority.
With that in mind, here’s what five incoming House members from Southern California said about Pelosi on the campaign trail – and what they’re saying now.
More cowbell? Nah, more Nancy!
Some candidates weren’t coy.
Mike Levin, who will represent the 49th congressional district, which covers north San Diego and southern Orange counties, campaigned as an unabashed fanboy of the Democrat from San Francisco.
“Leader Pelosi is one of my political heroes. I can’t imagine we could have a better Speaker should we regain control of the House,” Levin said in March.
This month, on Twitter, he wrote:
“During this turbulent time in our nation’s history, no one is better prepared than @NancyPelosi to lead a diverse Democratic Caucus. We need her stability, vision and strength.”
During this turbulent time in our nation’s history, no one is better prepared than @NancyPelosi to lead a diverse Democratic Caucus. We need her stability, vision and strength. Here is a letter to our fellow Freshman Class from me and @KatieHill4CA. We offer our strong support. pic.twitter.com/OQoQCUiIob
— Mike Levin (@MikeLevinCA) November 15, 2018
On June 5, the day of the California primary, a reporter from ABC News asked the Pelosi question of Harley Rouda, then one of several Democrats hoping to beat incumbent Republican Dana Rohrabacher to represent the 48th congressional district, which includes much of coastal Orange County.
“I do like (Pelosi),” he said, “But there are a lot of people I like.”
When told he was dodging the question, Rouda simply laughed.
Rouda won, and he’s backing Pelosi for Speaker. In a mid-November tweet, Rouda described Pelosi as “the most qualified” candidate, though he also said his backing is based on her endorsement of a “defined leadership succession plan.”
“Her experience and knowledge of the issues and of the Congressional landscape are unequaled.”
So Rouda is a “yes.”
Read my full statement on my decision to vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker. pic.twitter.com/drqT3TGqy0
— Harley Rouda (@HarleyRouda) November 20, 2018
So are Katie Hill and Katie Porter, two incoming Democrats from Southern California who wouldn’t back Pelosi for Speaker while campaigning.
“It’s not something I’m going to commit to while I’m still running,” said Hill, the incoming representative for the 25th congressional district, which includes parts of north Los Angeles County, during a mid-September interview.
“Once I’m (in office), and the various different candidates make their case and show what they’re going to do for specifically my community, that’s how I’m going to base my decision.”
On Wednesday, Hill was one of the newcomers who spoke up in favor of Pelosi. She later explained why on Twitter:
“I spoke on behalf of @NancyPelosi at today’s vote for Speaker because she is a champion for women and progress.”
I spoke on behalf of @NancyPelosi at today’s vote for Speaker because she is a champion for women and progress — I am excited to work with her to deliver the commitments I’ve made to my district. Congratulations, Leader! pic.twitter.com/UfCtSzaqx1
— Katie Hill (@KatieHill4CA) November 28, 2018
Porter, a consumer affairs lawyer and professor at UC Irvine who will represent the 45th congressional district, which includes much of inland Orange County, also didn’t commit to Pelosi during the campaign. But she did in mid-November, when it became clear she’d won. At the time, she noted that Pelosi supports campaign finance reform, an issue Porter plans to tackle.
On Wednesday, Porter tweeted that she voted for Pelosi because “together, we’ll fight for and realize important successes for Orange County.”
Today I voted for Leader Nancy Pelosi as speaker, and I know that together we’ll fight for and realize important successes for Orange County.
— Katie Porter (@katieporteroc) November 28, 2018
No more Nancy
Gil Cisneros, who will represent the 39th district, which touches north Orange County and parts of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, never committed to Pelosi during the campaign, but he never fully committed to opposing her, either. Instead, he said repeatedly that he believed Democrats need new leadership.
Independently wealthy after a winning lottery ticket paid off $266 million in 2010, Cisneros spent $9 million of his own money to help finance his campaign. That limited his need to court Pelosi and the campaign money she can bring to Democratic candidates.
On Monday, Cisneros confirmed that he’d co-signed a letter – signed by at least 15 other Democrats – calling for a different candidate for Speaker.
“It’s time for a new generation to rise,” Cisneros told the Washington Post.