By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Nancy Pelosi was expected on Wednesday to become the Democratic nominee for speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, giving her the inside track to reclaim the House’s top job in January, unless critics in her own party block her.
The 78-year-old San Francisco liberal, a frequent target of Republican critics, faces a small faction of Democrats who are refusing to back her for the post in which she made history from 2007 to 2011 as the first woman speaker.
Maneuvering to win over her opponents, Pelosi was set to meet on Tuesday with Democratic members of a bipartisan group known as the Problem Solvers Caucus. They want Pelosi, currently the House Democratic leader, to back reforms in how the House operates.
With a record of achievement that includes passage of 2010’s Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, Pelosi argues she is still best qualified to be speaker, rejecting critics’ demands for new, younger leadership.
No one has stepped forward to directly challenge her in Wednesday’s closed-door party election. If she wins, she will become the party’s nominee to be speaker for 2019-2020.
Some Democrats are trying to set conditions on their support. In the January election, Pelosi will need a majority of those casting ballots in the 435-member House, with both parties voting publicly.
Voters in the Nov. 6 congressional elections took away the Republicans’ House majority and handed it to Democrats in a contest widely seen as a referendum on President Donald Trump. His fellow Republicans added to their Senate majority.
Nine Democratic Problem Solvers urged Pelosi on Monday to publicly support rule changes they said would “help break the gridlock and pass meaningful legislation to fix health care, immigration and infrastructure.”
A senior Democratic aide said House Democratic leaders had embraced some of the proposals – such as promising timely votes on bills with the backing of three-fifths of the House.
An additional 16 Democrats signed a letter last week saying they believed “the time has come for new leadership in our caucus.” At least one, Representative Brian Higgins, has since changed his mind.
Recently elected California Democrat Gil Cisneros announced Monday he would not back Pelosi, saying he had to keep his campaign promise to support new leadership.
But another freshman Democrat who campaigned on the need for generational change in the party, Jahana Hayes of Connecticut, said Tuesday she would back Pelosi.
“You can’t beat someone with no one,” she said.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Peter Cooney and Bill Trott)