In case anyone has forgotten, Nancy Pelosi has been a more effective legislator than the last three GOP House speakers combined. Her crown jewel is having passed a health care bill in 2010 that extended insurance coverage to 20-plus million more Americans—arguably the most important domestic overhaul in the country since Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law in 1965.
In fact, Pelosi is likely the Democrats’ greatest legislative leader since Johnson. And without her prowess—which included holding her caucus together on a bill with which many progressives were deeply unsatisfied—the incoming Democratic majority wouldn’t have even had the winning issue of the election: health care.
Yet now there’s rumblings that #FiveWhiteGuys, led by Reps. Tim Ryan of Ohio and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, are staging an insurrection that would pit the left flank of the Democratic caucus against Pelosi’s speakership. They boast of having at least 17 Democratic members who have signed a pledge not to vote for Pelosi as Speaker once the motion hits the House floor next year. On the floor, Pelosi will need 218 votes, a majority of the chamber’s 435 members. How many votes Pelosi can afford to lose depends on exactly how many seats Democrats end up winning once all the votes are finally counted. But as Huffington Post’s Matt Fuller notes, the numbers could prove challenging—could being the operative word.
While we don’t know the exact breakdown of the House yet, it’s likely to be around 234 Democrats and 191 Republicans ― give or take a couple of members on both sides. If the number is 234 Democrats, Pelosi can lose only 16 Democrats if every member votes.
It gets a little more complicated by the fact that members can vote “present,” thereby reducing the number of members who actually have to vote affirmatively for Pelosi in order for her to prevail. That option would give cover to some Democrats who pledged not to vote for Pelosi if they got elected.
As Daily Kos Elections Director David Nir explains via tweet:
If the House winds up at 234D-201R (a likely scenario), Pelosi could therefore afford to have up to 32 Dems vote “present,” and she’d still beat [GOP Rep. Kevin] McCarthy 202-201. However, the rebels have been swearing they won’t do this
But forget about the vote count and all the complicated political wrangling for a second. What makes this all such an absurd farce is that no one has actually stepped up to run against Pelosi… yet. In other words, the #FiveWhiteGuys are trying to enlist the Democratic caucus’s incoming progressives to help them upset the current power structure to no good end. No one else is even running. They’re just looking to hold the caucus hostage without any actual solutions—exactly like the GOP’s Freedom Caucus on the right.
Anyone remember how that’s worked out for the GOP? Since 2011, Republicans have wielded their power to preside over a roller coaster of government funding debacles, pass literally hundreds of meaningless bills that never stood a chance of becoming law, and finally smooth passage of a tax law that proved so deeply unpopular they all ran away from it on the campaign trail. That’s the legacy of the Freedom Caucus after eight years of tossing grenades at their leadership.
And then there’s Pelosi and what her Democrats accomplished in four years split between two presidents from 2007 to 2011: shoring up a financial system on the brink of collapse in 2008 followed by a historic stimulus package that slowly but surely put the nation back on solid economic footing, more spending on veterans care and student aid, increasing the minimum wage for the first time in a decade, Wall Street reform, health care reform, credit card reform, tobacco regulation. And none of that even touches on civil liberties legislation like passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, expanding hate crimes protections, and repealing the military’s gay ban, among other things.
As Norm Ornstein said of the first two years of the Obama administration:
“The 111th Congress is going to go down as one of the most productive in terms of its legislative accomplishments, their sweep and scope and breadth, certainly in our lifetimes and probably within the 20th century.”
So it’s a tough one: Pelosi, who just guided Democrats to an epic midterm win on the strength of a law she helped will into being, or #FiveWhiteGuys without a plan. I mean, that’s tough, right?
Look, Pelosi has already said she sees a path to a new Speaker. She is preparing to step aside at a yet-to-be-determined time. In the meantime, we are in a battle to save the republic. You don’t let the infantry start calling the shots at a moment like that. You want the general who bested the other side the last time around making the calls. And make no mistake, that was Pelosi. The second most successful legislator of the Obama era was arguably Mitch McConnell, who held his caucus together in the Senate to block measure after measure after the Democrat’s Senate supermajority fell.
And in the spring of 2010, if Pelosi hadn’t rallied her Democratic troops to pass the health care bill that Senate Democrats had approved when they still had that supermajority, McConnell would have blocked the Affordable Care Act too.
Pelosi won that battle on health care and now she wants to stick around to win the war in the most challenging political environment we’ve seen since Watergate. Depriving her of that chance would be political malpractice for a Democratic majority that will exist because of her.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.