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With Pelosi, Democrats are stuck between a gavel and a hard place

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reacts to U.S. midterm election results in Washington
There is currently no other House Democrat stepping forward to take on Nancy Pelosi.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

WASHINGTON — Democrats face a dilemma when it comes to Nancy Pelosi’s quest to regain the speaker’s gavel next year. On the one hand, she remains incredibly unpopular — her fav/unfav rating in last week’s national exit poll was 31 percent positive, 56 percent negative (-25).

On the other hand, top Democrats are adamant that she’s the only House Democrat who could do the job. “We need the strongest general that we have. We need the best tactician. We need the best organizer,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said on “Meet the Press” last Sunday. “And that's her.”

Another problem for Pelosi as speaker: Twelve incoming Democratic freshmen who won last week say they won’t support her for speaker. That number could jump to 16 if Gil Cisneros (in CA-39), Jared Golden (in ME-2), Andy Kim (in NJ-3) and Ben McAdams in (UT-4) eventually win their races. If Democrats end up flipping 38 House seats, they can afford only 15 defections to keep their majority. And we’re not even mentioning the current members of Congress who’ve said they won’t support Pelosi.

But here’s the problem for Pelosi’s opponents: There is currently no other House Democrat stepping forward to take her on. “Asked about how the Pelosi defectors could beat somebody with nobody, [Rep. Seth] Moulton seemed undeterred, saying there was plenty of talent in the Democratic Caucus,” HuffPo’s Matt Fuller writes. But no one from that talent has accepted the challenge to compete against Pelosi.

So Democrats are stuck — between the option of an unpopular Pelosi who’s problematic for many of the House freshman who just won, and the option of no real Plan B.

By the way, NBC’s Alex Moe reminds us that, for Pelosi, there are some ways around the current Democratic opposition to her regaining the speakership. For one thing, some new and old members might vote against Pelosi in the closed-door caucus meeting on Nov. 28 — where she needs only a simple majority from her own party — and still vote for her on the floor on Jan. 3, when she needs a majority of ALL members to become speaker.

Also on Jan. 3, Pelosi opponents could vote “present,” reducing the magic number she needs to capture a majority.

Still, none of this is easy for Democrats.

12 incoming House Democrats who say they won’t support Pelosi

CO-6: Democrat Jason Crow to the Denver Post in July: “I won’t be supporting Nancy Pelosi … I want new leadership to set up and move this country forward.”

CT-5: Democrat Jahana Hayes in an August debate: "I would not vote for Nancy Pelosi."

MI-8: Democrat Elissa Slotkin, to the Washington Post in May: “I think it’s clear that on both sides of the aisle, people are seeking new leadership, and I’m going to be looking for someone who best represents my district and what we care about here. And I believe that’s a new generation of leaders.” And in November: "I'm not about to just flip my principles now that I'm elected."

MI-11: Democrat Haley Stevens in November: “At this time, Nancy Pelosi doesn’t have my support."

MI-13: Democrat Rashida Tlaib to CNN in August: “She doesn't speak about the issues that are important to the families of the 13th Congressional District, and they are a priority for me.”

MN-2: Democrat Dean Phillips has called for a “new generation of leadership.”

NJ-2: Democrat Jeff Van Drew said in a statement in June: “After more than a decade of leading House Democrats as Speaker and Minority Leader, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi will not have my support as leader in the next session”

NJ-11: Democrat Mikie Sherrill in May: “I won’t be supporting Nancy Pelosi for leadership either, because we know that the next 50 years aren’t going to look like the last 50 years, and we need a new generation of leaders who are going to bring forward fresh ideas as to how we move this country forward.”

NY-11: Democrat Max Rose said over the summer: “If the Democratic Party is going to earn back the trust of the American people then we need to show them that we are serious about changing our politics — and that means we need a change in leadership.”

NY-22: Democrat Anthony Brindisi said this spring: “I believe it's time for new leadership on both sides of the aisle.” And in his first ad: “I think it’s time for new leadership on both sides of the aisle in Washington and that’s why I won’t support Nancy Pelosi.”

SC-1: Democrat Joe Cunningham said on Twitter: “The Democratic Party needs new leadership now. If elected, I will not vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker. Time to move forward and win again.”

VA-7: Democrat Abigail Spanberger, in a July statement to NBC News: “We need new leadership in Washington, on both sides of the aisle, and at every level, from first-term members to Congressional leadership, and for this reason, under no circumstances, would I vote for Nancy Pelosi to again be Speaker of the House.” And on "Morning Joe" on Nov. 12, she said again: “I have tremendous respect for everything that Leader Pelosi has been able to accomplish thus far in her very distinguished career within Congress. But I do think that it’s a time that as we have, just such an incredible level of divisiveness in our political rhetoric and discussions, we need new leaders driving the conversation. So I will be voting for someone else.”

House Republicans hold their leadership contests Wednesday

Speaking of leadership elections, NBC’s Alex Moe reports that House Republicans are holding their closed-door contests Wednesday afternoon starting at 1:00 p.m. ET. Only a simple majority of the conference is needed to be elected.

House Republicans will hold their elections in this order: minority leader, minority whip, conference chair, NRCC chair, policy chair, vice chair and secretary.

An on-camera press conference with the new leadership team is expected around 3:00 p.m. ET to 4:00 p.m. ET, Moe adds.

The uncalled Senate races (1)

FL-SEN (Scott leads Nelson by 12,562 votes as the contest heads to a manual recount)

(MS-SEN goes to runoff)

The uncalled GOV races (1)

GA-GOV (GOP candidate Brian Kemp remains at 50.3 percent)

The uncalled House races (10)

CA-10 (The AP called this race for Dem Josh Harder; NBC News has yet to call it)

CA-39 (GOPer Young Kim leads Dem Gil Cisernos, 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent)

CA-45 (Dem Katie Porter leads GOPer Mimi Walters, 50.1 percent to 49.9 percent)

CA-48 (Dem Harley Rouda has declared victory; he leads, 52 percent to 48 percent)

GA-7 (GOPer Rob Woodall is ahead, 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent)

ME-2 (it appears the race is headed to ranked choice to determine the winner)

NM-2 (NBC News retracted its earlier call in favor of the Republicans; Dem Xochitl Torres Small is ahead, 51 percent to 49 percent)

NC-9 (GOPer Mark Harris is ahead, 49.4 percent to 48.8 percent)

NJ-3 (Dem Andy Kim is ahead, 49.9 percent to 48.8 percent)

UT-4 (Dem Ben McAdams is ahead, 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent)

WaPo: 'Five days of fury' inside the Trump White House

It really seems like President Donald Trump hasn’t taken the midterm results very well.

“As he jetted to Paris last Friday, President Trump received a congratulatory phone call aboard Air Force One. British Prime Minister Theresa May was calling to celebrate the Republican Party’s wins in the midterm elections — never mind that Democrats seized control of the House — but her appeal to the American president’s vanity was met with an ornery outburst. Trump berated May for Britain not doing enough," the Washington Post writes.

“For Trump, that testy call set the tone for five days of fury ... During his 43-hour stay in Paris, Trump brooded over the Florida recounts and sulked over key races being called for Democrats in the midterm elections that he had claimed as a ‘big victory.’ He erupted at his staff over media coverage of his decision to skip a ceremony honoring the military sacrifice of World War I. The president also was angry and resentful over French President Emmanuel Macron’s public rebuke of rising nationalism.”

First lady calls for firing of national security aide

Here’s more chaos inside the White House: “In an extraordinary move for a first lady, Melania Trump’s office on Tuesday publicly called for the firing of a senior National Security Council official,” per NBC’s Carol Lee, Kristen Welker and Hallie Jackson. “Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s communications director issued a statement around 2:30 p.m. saying the official, Mira Ricardel, should no longer serve as the NSC’s No. 2.”

“‘It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House,’ Grisham said.”

“Melania Trump conveyed the incidents to President Donald Trump, people familiar with the disagreements said. The confrontations included Ricardel demanding NSC staff have seats on the first lady’s plane during her trip to Africa last month, people familiar with the disagreements said.”

Chief of staff Kelly might soon exit the White House

And here’s EVEN MORE White House chaos from NBC’s Carol Lee, Kristen Welker, Hallie Jackson and Courtney Kube: “John Kelly, mired in conflicts with a widening array of officials from the National Security Council to the office of the first lady, may soon depart the Trump administration, according to seven people familiar with the discussions.”

“Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, is among those being considered for the job, three of the people said, though President Donald Trump has mused about other possible candidates.”