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Joe Cunningham Ups The Ante With Nancy Pelosi Letter

Gavel up for grabs …

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U.S. congressman-elect Joe Cunningham of South Carolina is one of (at least) sixteen Democrats firmly committed to openly opposing minority leader Nancy Pelosi in her bid to become speaker of the U.S. House for a second time.

Cunningham – who narrowly defeated GOP nominee Katie Arrington earlier this month in the race for South Carolina’s first congressional district (map) – signed a letter on Monday stating “the time has come for new leadership in our caucus.”

Aside from the sum total of signatories – which could conceivably be enough to keep the über-liberal Californian from re-gripping the gavel – what makes this group of current and incoming House members so significant?

In their letter, they pledge to oppose Pelosi twice – on November 28 when Democrats gather to choose their leaders and then again on the floor of the U.S. House on January 3.

“Our majority came on the backs of candidates who said that they would support new leadership because voters in hard-won districts, and across the country, want to see new change in Washington,” the letter reads. “We promised to change the status quo, and we intend to deliver on that promise.  Therefore, we are committed to voting for new leadership in both our caucus meeting and on the House floor.”

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It’s the second vote – the floor vote – that matters most.  Pelosi is a lock to win a majority of Democratic votes in the caucus election later this month, but she must hold virtually all of her caucus together if she hopes to survive a floor vote that includes members of both parties.

That is where we will see the distinction between those Democratic lawmakers who oppose Pelosi symbolically and those who are actually opposing her.

To his credit, Cunningham appears to be in the latter camp … as he has previously stated he would be.

Here is how it works: Democrats opposing Pelosi symbolically could vote against her in the caucus but turn around and support her (or abstain from voting) on the House floor – signaling their lack of support for Pelosi but declining to block her ascension to the speakership.  Either an “aye” vote for Pelosi or an abstention is an effective endorsement of her candidacy for the speaker’s office.

By pledging to vote against her on the floor, though, these sixteen lawmakers have thrown a major wrinkle into the political calculus in our nation’s capital.

As of this writing, Democrats are expected to enjoy a 233-202 advantage over Republicans when the 116th session of the U.S. congress gavels to order on January 3.

The math here isn’t difficult to do.  If fifteen Democrats vote against Pelosi on the floor, she wins the gavel by one vote.  If sixteen Democrats vote against her … she’s toast.

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Also worth noting?  Five other Democratic lawmakers who have previously pledged to oppose Pelosi did not sign the letter.

Pelosi remains undeterred.

“If your strategy relies upon Nancy Pelosi giving up, you will lose every single time,” one of her aides told The San Francisco Chronicle. “Ninety-four percent of the caucus didn’t sign this letter.”

That’s true … but it is abundantly clear her path to the speakership is going to be significantly rockier than anyone expected.

Noticeably absent from the list of Pelosi opponents?  U.S. congressman Jim Clyburn.  Once viewed as a possible rival to her ascension, Clyburn recently secured the votes necessary to become majority whip.  Of course if Pelosi were to crash and burn in her bid to reclaim the office she held from 2007-2011, Clyburn could reemerge as a candidate.

Stay tuned …

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