As usual, the press gets it wrong.
News reports of Nancy’s Pelosi’s 203-vote victory in her caucus yesterday all come with the disclaimer that she still “must” win 218 votes on the House floor.
Under house rules, the Speaker is elected by a majority of votes cast. That’s only the same as 218 votes if everybody votes.
That won’t happen.
If all the 32 dissenters were to abstain and everyone else were to vote for their respective party leaders, Pelosi would win the election 203-200 and become Speaker.
That won’t happen either, but it illustrates how votes are counted and suggests what might happen next.
If 5 abstain, Pelosi needs 215 votes, not 2018. If 10 do, it’s 213, 10 more than she has already. If the number is 20 abstentions, she only needs 5 additional votes.
If you are one of the 32 members of the House who is disinclined, for whatever reason, to vote for Pelosi, you have many options:
- Cite your vote against her in the Caucus as fulfilling any pledges you may have made and vote for her in January,
- Change your vote in return for concessions, real or pretended, that benefit your district,
- Vote for Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy,
- Vote for SETH MOULTON or other candidate to be named later,
- Abstain from voting.
I don’t put anything past Moulton at this point, but despite this headline I would be genuinely shocked if any House Democrat were to (3) vote for McCarthy.
Casting a (4) dark-horse ballot is, presumably, the stratagem of choice for the #fivewhiteguys and fellow travelers, since if enough of them do it there would be no winner and the balloting would go into subsequent rounds. Profit! Or something.
But for at least some of the 32, who do not want to cripple the party at an exceedingly dangerous point in the life of the nation, abstaining (5) will be the move of choice.
And I expect some of the 32 to chose (1) or (2). So, Pelosi does not need 2018 to win, and she probably has more than 203 votes already.
The underpants-gnome strategy of Moulton and the rest of the anti-old-woman caucus is to deprive Pelosi of a majority on every round of voting so that she is forced to withdraw (whereupon ?/profit). But it is more likely that some of this group, facing pressure and having both (a) satisfied any pledges and (b) (in some cases) embarrassed themselves, would peal off in subsequent voting rounds.
That is, change their vote to Pelosi or abstain, changing the math.
By the Numbers
Let’s start with the 203 votes that Pelosi got in the caucus. If the 200 Republicans vote en bloc for McCarthy, which is normal and expected, and she picks up no more votes, then it would only take 3 Democratic votes cast for other candidates to deny her a win (and force a second round). There would be 406 votes cast (Peolsi 203, McCarthy 200, Moulton 3), so that Pelosi’s 203 votes would be exactly half–but not a majority.
More likely, though, she will get additional votes from (1) and (2) above, with the opportunity to get still more in round 2 of balloting, should it come to that. The more cohesive the (3) block is, the more pressure there will be on other dissenters to take options (1) or (2). The wind is really at her back.
To absolutely deny Pelosi the speakership, the “not this particular woman” crowd would need to muster and retain 18 solid votes for someone else, which could be multiple candidates.
Each of the dissenters could vote for him or her self, which would be fitting.
For a group that has no end-game, no candidate, no vision, and leadership that is feckless at best, I think 18 votes is really unlikely.
But those are the numbers to watch.