How Pelosi battle reflects Democratic frustration over leadership 'bottleneck'

Actress Alyssa Milano speaks at a campaign event for democratic congressional candidate Katie Porter on Tuesday Nov. 6 2018 in Tustin Calif

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Sixteen maverick Democrats have released a letter saying they'll vote for "new leadership" when the House picks leaders in January.

"We are thankful to Leader Pelosi for her years of service for our Country and our Caucus", the letter reads.

Ten of the 13 Texas Democrats who will serve in the new Congress openly support Pelosi.

"We promised to change the status quo, and we intend to deliver on that promise", the letter continued.

Others signing the letter were incumbents Jim Cooper of Tennessee; Bill Foster of Illinois; Brian Higgins of New York; Stephen Lynch and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts; Ed Perlmutter of Colorado; Tim Ryan of Ohio; Kurt Schrader of OR; and Filemon Vela and Texas.

Democrats will hold at least 232 seats in the new Congress that begins in January, according to latest numbers from the Associated Press.

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It's the thorny first question confronting newly elected House Democrats: Will you vote for Nancy Pelosi? But that ultimate number is dependent on the ultimate size of the majority; if it increases to 233, she can lose 15 votes.

All those races have Republican incumbents, but the Democratic challenger is ahead in only one. Either an "aye" vote for Pelosi or an abstention is an effective endorsement of her candidacy for the speaker's office. But while the letter indicates that Pelosi has a math problem, there are already signs she may be able to overcome the opposition. Anthony Brindisi of NY is leading in his race, while Ben McAdams is running behind Republican incumbent Mia Love in Utah, according to AP. "The move to oust Pelosi comes two weeks after Democrats seized control of the House with their largest majority since 1974". It would be led by human resource professionals and "diversity" experts, and work with outside groups to recruit, retain, and train for advancement minority staffers. "Therefore, we are committed to voting for new leadership in both our caucus meeting and on the House floor".

But the challenge upset backers of Clyburn, a former Congressional Black Caucus chairman and a revered figure among the caucus's roughly 50 African-Americans - who bristled at the notion that the caucus's top tier could be all-white. And of course, Pelosi herself has the power, should she reclaim the gavel, to use committee assignments and fundraisers to reward backers - and withhold those benefits for detractors.

Other freshmen who have said they would oppose Pelosi did not sign the letter, and the fight for their allegiance is raging behind the scenes.

"If we are going to turn a page and bring civility back to the political discussions, we need to change the people who are directing that conversation", she said. None of the signatories have an interest in challenging her themselves, although some have floated the idea of Rep. Marcia Fudge.

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