House Democrats back Pelosi for speaker in next Congress

House Democrats will hold leadership votes as Nancy Pelosi appears on track to win the speaker nomination. By Kristin Wilson, Clare Foran, Daniella Diaz and Sarah Fortinsky, CNN

(CNN) -- House Democrats nominated Nancy Pelosi to serve as speaker in the next session of Congress in leadership elections on Wednesday.

A full House floor vote for the speakership will take place in January, and Pelosi is poised to remain in the top leadership post for House Democrats.

At a news conference, Pelosi appeared to affirm that she will stand by an earlier commitment to serve just two more years as speaker, though her answer was somewhat vague in response to a question about whether the next session of Congress will be her last in the leadership role.

"There was a move to put limits on the leadership and the chairs of committees. They said they were going to do it, they didn't do it. But what I said then, was whether it passes or not, I will abide by those limits," Pelosi said, adding, "I can't wait to be working with Joe Biden ... I don't want to undermine any leverage I may have, but I made the statement."

Pelosi pledged in 2019 that she would only serve four more years as speaker, meaning the next Congress would be her last.

The fact that Pelosi is expected to remain on as speaker is a sign of how strong her hold is over House Democrats even after they suffered disappointing losses in the 2020 elections.

Top House Democrats had confidently predicted they would expand their majority only to instead see a number of incumbents ousted by Republicans, who are now emboldened and on the offensive, though they are still in the minority.

Those Democratic losses have sparked tense infighting among moderates and progressives with both factions of the party pointing fingers and casting blame. That rift, and a smaller majority, may create new challenges for Pelosi as she leads House Democrats in the next Congress.

Pelosi has remained defiant even after the losses, telling reporters last week, "I take credit for winning a majority and holding the House."

House Democrats also backed Pelosi's top deputies to remain in their leadership positions with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland elected to continue on in his role and Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina re-elected House Majority Whip, retaining the third-in-line leadership post.

The House Democratic Leadership will remain largely unchanged in the upcoming Congress, with Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn retaining the top spots.

The highest-ranking contested leadership race on Wednesday was for the position of assistant speaker. Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts was elected to the role, beating Rhode Island Rep. David Cilcilline.

Another key election to watch will be for chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee when Congress returns after Thanksgiving.

Assistant speaker race

Clark, who currently serves as vice chairwoman of the Democratic Caucus, was elected to the post of assistant speaker in a race against Cicilline. The fourth-highest-ranking position in the House, the assistant speaker position was created by Pelosi to create additional leadership opportunities for young members of Congress as the establishment Democratic leaders continue to hold onto their seats.

Although she often avoids making headlines, Clark has not been shy about setting her sights on climbing the leadership ladder. As vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, she is the highest-ranking female lawmaker in the House, aside from Pelosi, and a close ally of the speaker.

Clark has spent much of the last four years campaigning around the country trying to get women and minorities elected. With Democrats still reeling over lackluster election results, Clark will be able to point to her success working at the DCCC in 2018, when Democrats saw great gains in the House.

How the votes work

Incoming members of the next session of Congress are allowed to vote in the leadership elections, which were conducted virtually -- for the first time ever -- through an encrypted application that is automatically downloaded on members' House-issued iPhones and was designed "in partnership with some of the nation's leading cryptologists," Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said in a letter to members Friday obtained by CNN.

"Votes will be secured by end-to-end encryption, and a Member's vote will remain secret to everyone except for the Member themself," he also said in the letter. "Each candidate will have a team of Member tellers to monitor the encrypted electronic transmission and tabulation of votes during every election."

Democrats convened a video call earlier Wednesday, where all members could hear from the candidates who are running for leadership roles. In races where a vote tally is ordered, the Democratic members will have 15 minutes to vote on the app.

Jeffries said the caucus did a test run of their voting app, voting on which musician is the greatest of all time, pitting Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen, Selena and Bono for members' votes.

"Selena finished a strong fourth, Bono a close third, The Boss finished second, and with more than 50% of the vote, the Queen of soul Aretha Franklin," he said. "We salute all those legends, who are transitioning us into this new Covid era of being required to vote electronically."

This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

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