President Trump has said he can deliver “as many votes” as might be needed from Republicans to help Rep. Nancy Pelosi, his chief Democratic nemesis, become the next speaker of the House.
If so, it would be historic — analysts can’t find any modern precedent for a speaker being elected based on the other party’s votes, and indeed, there are only a couple of examples of even a single member defecting.
It’s also not clear which Republicans would be willing to forsake party loyalty and follow Mr. Trump’s advice.
The president has name-checked just one, Rep. Tom Reed of New York, whose office said he’s open to backing the liberal California Democrat, but only if she makes some bipartisan procedural changes.
Other Republicans ducked the question this week, either ignoring requests to their offices or saying through spokespersons that they’re not likely to vote for the woman many of them just spent months campaigning against.
It doesn’t even sound like Mrs. Pelosi wants the support, as her spokesman Drew Hammill brushed aside questions and predicted she’ll earn the speakership the traditional way.
“Leader Pelosi will win the speakership with Democratic votes,” he said.
She has already won over a couple of key converts, including sidelining one would-be challenger this week.
Still, Mr. Trump has insisted he’s got votes to deal.
“I can get Nancy Pelosi as many votes as she wants in order for her to be speaker of the House,” Mr. Trump tweeted late last week. “She deserves this victory, she has earned it — but there are those in her party who are trying to take it away. She will win!”
He followed that tweet by suggesting Mr. Reed would be a possible defector.
The congressman, co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, says he wants to see anyone running for speaker promise to embrace a set of rules changes designed to open up the House legislative process.
“I am open to supporting Nancy Pelosi if she commits to these rule reforms to get the institution working for the people back home,” Mr. Reed said Tuesday on CNN.
Just two months ago he and 19 other members of the Problem Solvers Caucus — 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats — pledged only to support a speaker that embraces a package of reforms that would weaken the speakership.
Three of the Republicans have since lost re-election, including Rep. Mike Coffman, whose successor Democrat Jason Crow opposes Mrs. Pelosi.
Yet another of the Republicans who made the commitment, Pennsylvania Rep. Lloyd Smucker, has signaled he’ll break that pledge if it comes to Mrs. Pelosi.
“Rep. Smucker will not support Pelosi for House Speaker,” said his spokesman Bill Jaffe.
The other Republicans on the pledge ducked multiple inquires this week about their votes and Mrs. Pelosi.
Incoming House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office also did not respond to requests for comment — though the California Republican steered clear of the issue last week.
“That’s not a question for me, that’s a question for her conference,” he said.
The speaker’s vote is the first substantive vote the House takes each new Congress, just after it convenes and establishes a quorum. And party-flipping on the vote is virtually unheard of, since it’s considered the chief test of identifying as a Republican or Democrat.
Historians and analysts point to two occasions when someone in the minority party backed the majority party’s nominee — once in 1917, when a Republican backed the Democratic speaker as a show of unity amid World War I, and again in 2001, when maverick Democratic Rep. James Traficant backed GOP Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.
In neither of that instances was their vote a deciding factor — making Mr. Trump’s promise all the more stunning, and unlikely.
Mrs. Pelosi needs 218 votes to become speaker. Though several races remain too close to call, Democrats are poised to have a 234 to 201 seat advantage in the House — leaving Mrs. Pelosi able to withstand about 16 dissenters.
Polling of Democrats outside the Beltway is mixed over what they want to see happen.
A CBS News survey found 49 percent of Democrats support Mrs. Pelosi for speaker, while 40 percent would like to see someone else win the gig and 10 percent undecided.
A separate poll from Quinnipiac University, though, found Democrats supported Mrs. Pelosi by a 53-27 margin. Those numbers were consistent across all ideologies, liberal, moderate and conservative. She was more popular among female and minority Democrats than among male and white ones.
Mrs. Pelosi has been her party’s leader since 2002, meaning three-quarters of House Democrats have never had another chief. She led her party to the majority for the first time in more than a decade in the 2006 elections, then survived as leader even after surrendering the majority in the 2010 elections.
Now, as she’s struggling to return to the top, some Republicans are gleefully taking in the spectacle.
The Republican National Committee, for example, has been keeping a running tally of reminders to reporters of Democrats who’d vowed on the campaign trail to oppose Mrs. Pelosi.
RNC spokesman Garren Shipley said all that makes Mr. Trump’s pro-Pelosi posturing a tactical move.
“President Trump knows exactly what most Democrats know — the single biggest aid to Republicans taking back the House in 2020 is Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” Mr. Shipley said. “And President Trump wants to start his second term with a Republican House.”