Three of New Jersey’s four new Democratic Congress members, who may face a tough reelection battle in 2020, on Wednesday did not support the party’s choice of California Rep. Nancy Pelosi to once again serve as Speaker of the House.
Mikie Sherrill, who won by a 15-point margin in the 11th District, a North Jersey seat held for decades by Republicans, said in a statement she did not back Pelosi as she had promised in her campaign. Her campaign did not return a request for clarification of whether Sherrill voted against Pelosi or abstained, but(reported) Sherrill voted against the former speaker.
Pelosi, the current Democratic minority leader who served four years as Speaker from January 2007 to January 2011 and has been a lightning rod for Republican criticism, had no opposition and202-32 with three members submitting blank ballots. Her lopsided victory Wednesday does not guarantee her the speakership, however, unless she wins the support of some Republicans or the Democrats opposing her choose to essentially abstain from the vote on the House floor on January 3.
Neither of the two Democrats who flipped South Jersey districts voted for Pelosi, either. Both Andy Kim, who will represent the 3rd District spanning parts of Burlington and Ocean counties, and state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, who will represent the sprawling 2nd, had said at least once during their campaigns that they would not back Pelosi.
Van Drew, arguably the most conservative Democrat in the New Jersey Senate, signed a letter last week with 15 other Democrats who said they were seeking “new leadership.”
Kim released a statement in which he said all his votes in Congress will be cast based on “what is best for all of the people of Ocean and Burlington counties.” “I continue to urge leaders in Congress to find ways to lift up more voices,” Kim added.
Tom Malinowski, who flipped the long-red 7th District seat stretching from Union County to the Delaware River with a margin of roughly 5 points, announced last week that he would support Pelosi.
The Republican Party, which earlier this month lost four of the five districts it had held in New Jersey, already has started targeting some of those who flipped seats in the midterm even before the new representatives are seated.
Sherrill’s win was much bigger than expected, but the 11th, dominated by Morris County communities, continues to have more registered Republicans than Democrats and was a district Democrats barely contested most years before Donald Trump’s election. The other winners had much smaller margins and could also have a tough time getting reelected in 2020, particularly with the presidency at the top of the ballot: Van Drew’s margin was less than eight points, smaller than some pundits had predicted, while Kim won by fewer than 4,000 votes, a margin just slightly above 1 percentage point.
Chris Martin, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, attacked Sherrill in particular earlier this week. He noted that she had said during her campaign that she would not back Pelosi, but then criticized Sherrill for not answering questions about her choice in the days leading up to the vote.
“Did Sherrill lie about her support for Pelosi to get elected, or does she think voters don’t deserve to hear from her?” Martin asked. “Either way, Mikie Sherrill hasn’t even been sworn in and she’s already acting like a shady Washington politician.”
In a brief statement released yesterday, Sherrill said her opposition to Pelosi in caucus fulfilled her campaign statement: "Back in May, I made a commitment to the residents of NJ-11 that I would seek new leaders in Congress who were going to help us move forward on the priorities here in our district. For that reason, today in caucus I did not support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House."
Malinowski, on the other hand, was expansive in explaining his support for Pelosi, saying she will back issues of interest to New Jerseyans and that his constituents want him to support her. He also said Democrats need to unite in working for the interests of the country and not fight among themselves.
He said Pelosi “has told me that she will support taking action next year to address the (state and local tax) deduction issue, and to ensure that the federal government keeps its promise to help fund the Gateway Tunnel (Hudson River commuter rail) project.” Malinowski also said he was influenced by 120 women leaders from throughout the state who endorsed Pelosi’s candidacy.
“My decision is influenced by larger concerns that inspired me to run for Congress,” Malinowski added. “We have a president who disdains and seeks to undermine the most sacred norms of our democracy. Democrats have won nothing more than a fragile foothold in one House of Congress, from which we must try to apply checks and balances, and to deliver for voters who are losing hope that Congress can deliver anything.
“We must get to work from day one to pass bills that can unite sensible, patriotic Americans of both parties,” he continued. “A long, bitter, and divisive leadership fight is the last thing we need at this moment of national crisis. We must show results as quickly as possible, with unity and shared purpose. Nancy Pelosi has demonstrated time and again that she can unify our diverse Democratic caucus and negotiate with the other side to get results.”
While support for Pelosi among most returning New Jersey Democrats was solid, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, the freshman who in 2016 flipped the formerly red 5th District in the northernmost tier of the state, had been holding back his endorsement pending Pelosi’s agreement to change some House rules proposed by the Problem Solvers Caucus that Gottheimer co-chairs to encourage bipartisanship. Pelosi agreed and Gottheimer voted for her, said his spokesman Matt Fried.
Gottheimer had been facing some pushback from at least some of his constituents. Two men on Wednesdayto Gottheimer’s Glen Rock office that read, in part, “You work for us! … Stop blackmailing Pelosi.”
Sherrill has also been facing a backlash from some members of the NJ 11th for Change group formed in the wake of Trump’s election that blasted retiring Republican Rep. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen for not holding town halls. The group later endorsed Sherrill and worked hard to get her elected. Some are unhappy with her decision not to vote for Pelosi, and the group as a whole is calling on Sherrill to start talking with constituents about this and other matters, including her decision to join the relatively conservative Blue Dog Coalition.
A statement released by NJ 11th for Change that coincided with the caucus vote reads, “Mikie Sherrill repeatedly committed during her campaign to hold regular Town Hall meetings so that constituents could voice their concerns and ask questions. As the Congresswoman-Elect begins to make decisions regarding caucuses and coalitions to join and support, the people of NJ-11 are eager to hear her reasoning for these decisions, as well as her plans for turning her campaign promises into actionable policies that directly improve the lives of constituents in her district.”
“While our members have very diverse opinions on this, nobody is terribly surprised at Sherrill's caucus vote today, since she made clear during her campaign that she would not support Nancy Pelosi,” said Liz Lynch, a spokeswoman for the group. “We will continue to advocate for a forum at which constituents can air their concerns about Sherrill's position on this and many other crucial issues.”