Pelosi Faces Challenges of Slim Majority and Party Divisions

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi faces the imminent challenge of uniting a divided Democratic Party behind President-elect Joe Biden’s agenda without endangering her slim majority in midterm elections two years from now.

With the narrowest majority in decades, Pelosi’s ability to build consensus and keep Democrats moving in the same direction will be severely tested by the party’s two competing factions.

After the Democrats lost as many as 10 House seats in the election, the tension spilled out on Twitter, in interviews and on a conference call, pitting representatives from swing districts like Pennsylvania’s Conor Lamb and Virginia’s Abigail Spanberger against the group of young, vocal progressives led by New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

In a letter to Democrats Monday, Pelosi recognized the importance of advocacy, but emphasized the need for the party to build consensus and craft legislation that is “respectful of the thinking and values of all members.”

“We advocate because we believe we can convince others of our point of view,“ Pelosi said. “If we advocate to unify, we can prevail.”

First Test

Pelosi’s first test comes later this week. House Democrats will hold leadership elections that appear to offer a reprise of the existing team at the top, led by Pelosi, 80, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, 81, and majority whip James Clyburn, 80. The elections are to be held virtually, with nominating speeches and candidate presentations conducted by video call. Members will use a special phone app to vote, encrypted to keep their choices secret.

Pelosi is asking the caucus to again pick her as the top Democratic leader, and its nominee for speaker. But the official vote for the speaker position occurs on the House floor in January, with members of both parties participating.

Adding to her troubles, Democrats fell short of expectations in the Senate, depriving her of a powerful partner in advancing the party’s legislative goals.

Depending on the outcome of two runoff elections in Georgia, Democrats in the best case would nominally control a 50-50 Senate with more conservative members like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona putting a check on the more liberal impulses of the House. In the worst case for Democrats, Republicans emerge with a 52-48 advantage.

Pelosi said that despite working with a shrunken majority, the challenges are lessened by having Biden in the White House.