Liberal activists were among Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s fiercest critics over the last several years, but progressive group leaders have emerged as the strongest supporters of her bid to return as speaker of the House, saying she’s the only pick to lead the party over the next two years.
While Democrats clamor for a new generation of leaders to emerge from Wednesday’s House Democratic Caucus leadership elections, leaders of progressive groups say they’re on board with turning the keys back over to Mrs. Pelosi, who has led her party for the last 16 years.
“We want the boldest and the most progressive speaker as possible in this moment. That is almost certainly Nancy Pelosi,” Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, told The Washington Times.
Mrs. Pelosi will learn just how much support she has Wednesday in the leadership elections, where she needs a majority of Democrats who will be in the House next year to vote for her.
Her bigger test comes Jan. 3, when the entire House votes on the speaker’s position and when she must win an absolute majority of 218.
Mrs. Pelosi has been striking deals to head off challenges and trying to fend off criticism from reluctant Democrats.
But unlike the campaigns, when young, liberal candidates were among the most outspoken against Mrs. Pelosi, the post-election revolt has come from moderate lawmakers such as Reps. Seth Moulton and Kathleen Rice.
That, it turns out, is helping Mrs. Pelosi solidify her left flank.
“Everybody was in favor of change, but when the fight is engaged and sides have to be chosen, they’ve turned Nancy Pelosi into a #MeToo, progressive darling,” said Scott Ferson, co-founder of the Liberty Square Group. “And that’s the way they’ve framed it up.”
That the remaining Pelosi skeptics are largely men also has been noticed.
“Anyone who thinks that Nancy Pelosi should be replaced by moderate white guys is fundamentally misreading the moment,” Joe Dinkin, director of campaigns at the Working Families Party, told The Washington Times. “It was women voters, and especially women of color, who powered the progressive wave. We need more women in leadership roles, not less.”
Justice Democrats, a progressive activist group, warned that their side of the party does not want leadership that “seeks bipartisan compromises with a Republican Party that constantly lies in order to divide and loot the people.”
Democrats are facing the same decisions Republicans did in 2010, after massive victories delivered control of the House and left them trying to decide between cooperating with President Barack Obama or attempting to thwart him and undo his agenda.
Liberal groups say they’re looking for the stiffest stance they can get — and they do worry about Mrs. Pelosi’s desire to live up to her self-description as a “master legislator.”
“There’s not just one Pelosi that’s a possibility,” Mr. Green said. “There’s a super bold, progressive Pelosi who commits to progressives in key leadership positions and commits to votes on very popular agenda items. And there’s a very small bore version that we hope is not the case.”
Some liberal activists are holding out.
Ryan Greenwood, director of Movement Politics for People’s Action, said his group isn’t endorsing anyone in the speaker’s race. He said Mrs. Pelosi has proven to be a strong leader in the minority, but she needs to demonstrate she can be a progressive ally in the majority.
But Mrs. Pelosi is winning the backing of important issues advocates, including labor unions and some immigrant-rights activists.
Familia Latina Unida, an immigrant rights organization in Chicago, officially endorsed Mrs. Pelosi Monday, saying she is the champion they need to pursue a more lenient approach to immigrants in the new Congress.
“We saw her tears and heard her commitment to stop the separation of families,” the group said.
Ayanna Pressley, who ousted a 10-term incumbent Democrat to win a Massachusetts seat in Congress, said what swayed her to Mrs. Pelosi is guns. After Mrs. Pelosi agreed to hold a vote next year on a bill to expand background checks for firearms purchases, Ms. Pressley agreed to back her for speaker.
“We have a mandate from the electorate to be bold, and leadership on this issue has been a long time coming,” Ms. Pressley said Tuesday.
Jahana Hayes, an incoming Democrat from Connecticut who during the campaign flatly stated she wouldn’t support Mrs. Pelosi, reversed herself Tuesday, saying there are no other options.
“You can’t beat someone with no one,” she said.
Other holdouts among the incoming freshmen, though, have no intention of changing their minds.
Jared Golden, who won a seat in Maine, said he will write in someone else rather than vote for Mrs. Pelosi.
Anthony Brindisi, who won a New York seat, said he feels no pressure to flip to “yes,” while Max Rose, an incoming freshman from Staten Island in New York, seemed keen to talk about anything besides Mrs. Pelosi’s pitch.
“I don’t know anything anymore, man,” he said. “I’m still full from Thanksgiving.”
Mr. Ferson, who had previously backed a call for a change in leadership, said the rebels in the Democratic Caucus haven’t made a strong case. Not only did Mrs. Pelosi lead Democrats back to the majority, but no alternative has emerged, he said.
“Frankly, if I’m picking between the rebels and Nancy Pelosi just in a straight up, knock down political battle — my money all day, every day will be on Nancy Pelosi,” he said.
• Seth McLaughlin and Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.