Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton insists there are enough Democrats in the House to block Nancy Pelosi from becoming speaker in January.
The Salem Democrat is among a group of lawmakers calling for new leadership in the party, but there are signs that their "block Pelosi" campaign is weakening.
The fight will come to a head Wednesday when House Democrats vote to nominate who will lead them. Right now, Pelosi is the only candidate, so she will become the nominee, and she insists that she will have the support to become the next speaker when the entire House votes in January.
But Moulton told WBUR Monday that there are enough renegade Democrats to block her. “That’s the simple fact of the math," he said in an interview. "We gained seven votes in the pro-change group just over the Thanksgiving break."
In fact, the math is changing by the day. Last week, Moulton was among 16 Democrats — current and newly elected members of the House — who signed a letter saying they were committed to new leadership. Since then, Pelosi has persuaded at least one of those members to support her. She also won the support of Marcia Fudge, the Ohio congresswoman whom Moulton had hoped would challenge Pelosi for speaker. So as Moulton insists the pro-change effort is alive and well, Pelosi — a master vote counter and negotiator — is quietly building her support, while Moulton and his fellow rebels have no candidate to oppose her.
"Unfortunately the political reality of the stranglehold that our current leadership has on the House is that no one wants to step up until it's clear that [the current leaders] are going to step down," Moulton said.
Although he has emerged as a leader in the group opposing Pelosi, Moulton says he has no interest in running for speaker.
"Pelosi has tried to dub me as one of the leaders of this, but a lot of people have called for change,” Moulton said. “I've made it clear from the very beginning that I'm not going to run."
The campaign against Pelosi has angered many, including Isa Leshko, who was among a number of women who criticized Moulton at a town hall meeting in Amesbury last week.
"The American people sent a clear message that we want women and people of color to lead,” Leshko said. “Seth Moulton is willing to risk all of that in order to oust Nancy Pelosi from her leadership role."
That sentiment is widely shared among Democratic women, according to Susan Tracy, a Democratic political strategist in Boston. Tracy says she understands Moulton's call for new leadership, but she says trying to take down Pelosi sends the wrong message right now.
"When people think about [Hillary] Clinton's loss to Donald Trump, they say, 'We lost the most qualified person perhaps who's ever run for run for president,’” Tracy said. “So I think you have women in particular who feel very frustrated at the notion of challenging Nancy Pelosi when she's just had a very successful election."
Tracy notes that of the 16 current and future members of Congress who signed the letter opposing Pelosi, 14 were men. In response, Moulton says the opposition to Pelosi is diverse, and includes women and progressives.
It also includes Congressman Steven Lynch of Boston, who says Democrats must offer a new direction.
"We risk losing the Democratic majority in the House,” Lynch told WCVB-TV this week. “We risk having Trump elected for another four years if the Democrats don't offer a new direction for the Democratic Party."
Pelosi is responding to these concerns, promising reforms in the House come January. But Moulton says people voted for change in this last election, and that the party needs to reflect that change at the top.
Former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank disagrees with that analysis and says voters flipped the House, from one dominated by a “very right-wing Republican [majority] to a much more progressive Democratic [majority].”
“Moulton says that's not change,” Frank added. “But that's very important change."
For his part, Moulton says people voted for a lot more than just flipping the House to Democratic control. He called Democrats “the party of the future,” and says his call for a new generation of leaders is about updating the Democratic agenda.
"We should be legislating on things like privacy and social media," Moulton said. "We need to deal with the automated workforce and the fact that our education system isn't set up to respond to the demands of the automated workforce. And we need people who understand the tragedies of today, like gun violence."
In a sign that he might be softening his position, Moulton says this isn't only about Pelosi. He and his fellow rebels are calling for negotiations with her in an effort to move younger Democrats into their party’s leadership.
It's not clear if they will get what they want from Pelosi, who says she will be the next speaker "no matter what Seth Moulton says."
This segment aired on November 28, 2018.