New York Rep. Brian Higgins defected Wednesday from the rebel group of Democrats opposing Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for House speaker.
“I took a principled stand on issues of vital importance not only to my constituents in Western New York but also to more than 300 million Americans whose lives can be improved by progress in these areas,” Mr. Higgins said in a statement. “A principled stand, however, often requires a pragmatic outlook in order to meet with success.”
He also warned that “terrible dysfunction” could derail the Democrats’ plan to serve as a check on Republican power.
In an interview with The Buffalo News, Mr. Higgins said he changed his mind about Mrs. Pelosi after she agreed to prioritize the major infrastructure and health care bills he has been pushing.
“I have an agreement in principle with the Democratic leader that those are going to be two priorities, and that I will be the lead person on the Medicare buy-in,” Mr. Higgins told the newspaper.
Another major reason he broke ranks with the rebels is that they have no champion to rally behind.
“The bottom line is, we don’t even have a semblance of a viable alternative at this point,” Mr. Higgins said.
Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, who was considering a bid for speaker, endorsed Mrs. Pelosi on Tuesday.
Ms. Fudge instead will be chairwoman of the revived Committee on House Administration if Mrs. Pelosi takes over as speaker in January.
The former speaker has been in the top spot for Democrats since 2003, as the first woman ever elected to lead the House.
Mr. Higgins said Mrs. Pelosi will be a transitional leader, though he understood why she didn’t want to expand on her timetable for stepping down.
His change of heart comes just two days after he signed onto a letter with 15 other Democrats formally committed to voting for a candidate other than Mrs. Pelosi.
“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 real change in Washington,” they wrote. “We promised to change the status quo, and we intend to deliver on that promise.”
Mrs. Pelosi needs 218 votes to become speaker, which means she can’t lose more than 15 votes from her Democratic caucus, assuming no Republicans vote for her.