by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
As Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) seeks the support to keep the gavel for another term, her allies are keeping close watch on a potential wild card that could complicate her path next month: COVID-19.
Pelosi is already facing a much slimmer majority in the next Congress, after Democrats were clobbered at the polls in November, meaning she can afford far fewer Democratic defections than the 15 who opposed her two years ago. And lawmakers must be present on the House floor to cast their vote for Speaker, precluding the option for members to vote remotely, as many have done throughout the pandemic.
The combination of factors creates the chance that Democrats could face a dilemma on Jan. 3 in which Pelosi locks up the Democratic support to remain Speaker, but coronavirus concerns — illnesses, quarantines or otherwise — prevent a sufficient number of them from being in the Capitol to log their votes.
A failure of Pelosi to secure support from half the voting members would, at the very least, throw the process into chaos. In the Democrats’ nightmare scenario, the math could tilt so far in the Republicans’ favor that it yields a GOP Speaker.
“Let’s say, just theoretically, we had six or eight people out with Covid and the Republicans have none. They probably could elect [Kevin] McCarthy,” said Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), referring to the House GOP leader.
Lawmakers were reminded of their vulnerability this week, when five more members of the House tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of infected lawmakers to at least 35 since the pandemic hit the U.S. roughly a year ago.
With that in mind, Pelosi’s supporters say it’s an outbreak over the holidays — not Democratic detractors — that poses the single greatest threat to Pelosi’s otherwise-expected Speakership victory next month.