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Pelosi Faces Close Speaker Vote Sunday amid Fears of Coronavirus Absences

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks about the coronavirus relief legislation, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 12, 2020. (Graeme Jennings/Reuters)

The new session of Congress begins on Sunday, and the House will vote on whether to reelect Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker, a vote that leaves little room for error given Democrats’ razor-thin majority.

The veteran California congresswoman is running unopposed after 17 years serving as House Democratic leader and appears to have enough support to retain the speakership. Her party’s slim majority in the lower chamber, however, as well as potential absences due to the coronavirus, could upset her victory.

“I think she’ll win, but I’m just not sure how she gets there,” said Representative Stephen Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat. “They have to make sure that all the members come. They have to come in person. And some members have illnesses, so it’s going to be a little touchy.”

“If Nancy can do anything, it is that she knows how to count,” Representative Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, said. “She is very aware of the fact that with a slim majority — with some members who voted against her two years ago — there is gonna have to be an effort to persuade them that that was then and this is now. We cannot afford to have uncertainty about the speakership.”

Democrats lost about a dozen House seats in November and now control only 222 seats. Pelosi must receive a majority of votes and cannot afford to lose as many Democrats as she did in 2018, when 15 bucked voting for her as Speaker.

Elissa Slotkin of Michigan as well as Jared Golden of Maine have already said they do not plan to vote for Pelosi, and several other Democrats have declined to reveal how they plan to vote. In October, progressive New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hedged on whether she would support Pelosi as Speaker again, saying she will support the “most progressive” candidate.

“I am committed to making sure that we have the most progressive candidate there. But, if Speaker Pelosi is that most progressive candidate, then I will be supporting her,” Ocasio-Cortez said on CNN just moments after Pelosi had announced her intention to run again on the same network.

Another concern for Pelosi is absences of Democratic members due to coronavirus quarantining. Representative Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, a Democrat, tested positive for the coronavirus this week but is expected to appear for the vote.

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