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Democrats panic that COVID could prevent Pelosi's return to speaker — and even result in a GOP speaker
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Democrats panic that COVID could prevent Pelosi's return to speaker — and even result in a GOP speaker

Could a Republican be elected House speaker despite the Democratic majority?

Democrats are reportedly panicked over the possibility that the coronavirus pandemic could hinder House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's expected re-election as House speaker, possibly even resulting in the top House Republican being elected speaker despite the Democratic majority.

What are the details?

To protect lawmakers vulnerable to COVID-19, the House adopted emergency rules in May that allowed House members to vote by proxy, which meant they were not required to be on the House floor to cast votes.

However, the emergency rules expire at the end of the 116th Congress, which could complicate Pelosi's expected re-election as speaker.

The Hill explains:

[T]he proxy-voting rule expires with the new Congress, requiring lawmakers to be in the Capitol in person if they want to participate in the Jan. 3 floor vote for Speaker. The House will adopt a new rules package governing the 117th Congress just after the Speaker vote. That makes physical attendance tantamount to Pelosi's success, since Democrats are on track to have a razor-thin majority of 222 seats, and at least three moderate members of the caucus are already on record saying they don't intend to vote for Pelosi on Jan. 3: Reps. Conor Lamb (Pa.), Jared Golden (Maine) and Elissa Slotkin (Mich.).

In fact, House rules dictate that a speaker candidate must receive an absolute majority of votes cast during the speaker election to become speaker of the House.

This means the combination of a slim Democratic majority and Democrats opposing Pelosi could give the speakership to the Republican Party if several Democratic members are unable to attend the speaker vote because they are sick with COVID-19.

What are Democrats saying?

If more Republicans than Democrats are present at the vote, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) explained that Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican, could be elected speaker.

"Let's say, just theoretically, we had six or eight people out with COVID and the Republicans have none. They probably could elect McCarthy," Yarmuth told the Hill.

Other House Democrats anonymously told the Hill:

  • "We're in a health care crisis, right? No one can get sick. That's the X-factor here. We need everyone to be healthy. ... That's the big fear."
  • "Obviously, the concern is that with 435 people going all over the country, it's hard to imagine that not one of us will have the virus on Jan. 3."

Despite pledges from some moderate Democrats to oppose Pelosi's speaker re-election, the Democratic Party has internally communicated that this year is not the time for advancing personal political prerogatives.

"There's the usual suspects who make it part of their brand to vote against her. But I think there's an awareness — and there's certainly a message coming from within the caucus — that this may not be a year for the usual branding," Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) told the Hill.

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