House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi met Friday with a prominent House Democrat considering challenging her for the speaker’s gavel, as she continued to confer with incoming Democrats and court votes for speaker.
Pelosi huddled Friday with Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, who has been encouraged by Pelosi's critics to mount a campaign against her. Pelosi, through a spokesman, said the two had a "candid and respectful conversation."
"The meeting went very well," she said. "We had a very open and candid discussion."
"What she asked me was, basically, ‘How could we get to a point where I could be supportive?’” Fudge added.
"We talked about some succession planning. We talked about some other things. I think that the biggest issue that we discussed was the feeling in the caucus of people who are feeling left out and left behind."
While she’s favored to become House speaker next Congress, and win the closed-door vote for speaker in the Democratic caucus on Nov. 28, Pelosi has faced determined opposition from a band of current and incoming House Democrats who want new leadership.
Seventeen of those Democrats have signed on to a letter pledging to vote for new leadership on the House floor in January, enough to block Pelosi from winning the 218 votes needed to clinch the gavel.
With three House races yet to be called by ABC News, Democrats are projected to hold 231 seats in the House next year, which would allow Pelosi to lose as many as 13 votes and still become speaker.
Her critics argue that Pelosi, 78, who served as speaker from 2007-2011, has crowded out the party’s rising stars and given few opportunities for Democrats to advance in the House.
“I was there when she grabbed the gavel with all the children around her [in 2007], it's one of the great moments of my career that I’ll always remember,” Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, a Pelosi critic who unsuccessfully ran against her for Democratic leader in 2016, told reporters Friday. “But we also have a responsibility to Democrats across the country who asked for change.”
“This is an election of the establishment Democrats circling the wagons, versus the change that the Democratic people voted for across the country,” he said.
For her part, Pelosi and her aides say that she has fostered and encouraged younger members, by creating additional leadership positions in the caucus and committees, and provided some member with issue portfolios to manage.
“My experience with Nancy Pelosi, is part of her mission actually is to lift younger members,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., a Pelosi ally, told ABC News. “It’s amazing to me how many hours she spends, in the course of her regular business as leader, check in with the caucuses.”
Schakowsky and other Pelosi supporters have accused her critics of sexism by working to sideline Pelosi without explicitly saying the same about her top lieutenants: Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, who is 79, and Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, who is 78. Both men are running to keep the second and third-ranked posts in the majority.
“They say about men when they age, they become more experienced, and women, expired,” Schakowsky said. “There’s definitely an element of sexism, an ageism that’s applied to women and not to men.”
Pelosi stopped short of calling her critics sexist Thursday in her weekly news conference but defiantly proclaimed that she had enough support to become speaker.
“I have overwhelming support in my caucus to be Speaker of the House, and certainly we have many, many people in our caucus who could serve in this capacity. I happen to think that, at this point, I'm the best person for that,” she said, while inviting others to challenge her.
Fudge, a former CBC chair and mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, who has served in Congress since 2008, said in an interview with HuffPost that Pelosi “has been a very good leader” but believes “it’s time for a new one.”
She also told the website that she believes Pelosi hasn’t been as strong enough of an advocate for African-Americans in Congress.
Fudge’s potential bid has split members of the Congressional Black Caucus, some of whom had privately encouraged Clyburn and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, a rising star who is running for a lower level leadership position, to move up the ranks of Democratic leadership.
But many prominent members of the group, including Jeffries, Rep. Elijah Cummings from Maryland, the future chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights icon, and Rep. Maxine Waters of California, the future chair of the House Financial Services Committee, have backed the California Democrat, who continues to meet with freshmen and undecided Democrats ahead of the caucus vote.
Pelosi’s office has also promoted a raft of endorsements from major labor unions, pro-choice groups, and other outside organizations active in Democratic politics.
She’s also met with key constituencies in the House Democratic caucus, including Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, a co-chair of the Progressive Caucus who told reporters she plans to support Pelosi, and a group of Democrats in the Problem Solvers Caucus who have pledged to withhold their support in exchange for procedural rule changes to reform the way the House is run.
On Friday, Pelosi continued to meet with incoming House Democrats, and plans to meet with the entire new class of freshmen Democrats