By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Nancy Pelosi, working to reclaim the top job in the U.S. House of Representatives, won over another supporter on Wednesday as a fellow Democrat reversed course and said he would back her as House speaker next year.
Pelosi, a 78-year-old San Francisco liberal and current House Democratic leader, is fighting hard to regain the job of speaker after the Nov. 6 elections in which Democrats gained a majority in the 435-member chamber.
Pelosi previously held the post in 2007-2011, when she made history as the first woman speaker. But a handful of fellow Democrats have opposed her taking up the job again, saying the party needs fresh, younger leadership when the new Congress convenes in January.
Representative Brian Higgins, who had initially signed on to that group, said in an interview with The Buffalo News that he dropped his opposition after Pelosi agreed to make infrastructure and eligibility for the federal government-run health insurance program Medicare top priorities next year.
“I have an agreement in principle with the Democratic leader that those are going to be two priorities, and that I will be the lead person on the Medicare buy-in,” Higgins told the New York-based news outlet.
He is the latest Democrat to back Pelosi as the party moves closer to picking House leaders next week. While some Democrats have threatened to vote against her, none have openly challenged her.
The House speaker, currently Republican Paul Ryan, oversees the chamber and sets the legislative agenda.
On Tuesday, Pelosi won the support of a potential challenger, fellow Democrat Marcia Fudge. In return, Pelosi agreed to create a special subcommittee to oversee election activities and name Fudge, a former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, as its leader.
Late on Tuesday, Pelosi also called for creation of a new leadership post, a move that could make room for younger lawmakers in the upper echelons of the House Democrats.
“This enhancement … will position House Democrats to best take advantage of the new size and diversity of our Caucus,” Pelosi wrote.
The House Democrats’ other current top leaders are No. 2 Steny Hoyer and No. 3 James Clyburn, both also in their late 70s. The two have said they plan to run for top spots – Hoyer as majority leader, and Clyburn as majority whip.
Democratic former President Barack Obama called Pelosi “one of the most effective legislative leaders that this country has ever seen” in an interview with the podcast “The Axe Files” released on Tuesday.
House Democrats elected to the next Congress are scheduled to meet on Nov. 28 to pick their leaders and nominee for speaker. The full House will vote in early January on the speaker position.
President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans retained their majority in the Senate in this month’s elections. Trump has said Pelosi deserves the speaker role.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Frances Kerry and Rosalba O’Brien)