Pelosi likely speaker again, but might require high-wire act

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks to the media, Wednesday Dec. 30, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON – There's little doubt that Nancy Pelosi will be reelected House speaker when the new Congress convenes Sunday. It could take a high-wire act for her to get there, largely thanks to the pandemic.

The only woman in history to serve as speaker, the California Democrat has a reputation as a formidable vote-counter and wily deal-cutter. Those skills have helped her fend off threats and cement her as leader of her party in the House since 2003, and seem likely to carry the day on Jan. 3, when the Constitution requires the new Congress to begin.

“Yeah, I do,” Pelosi told a reporter this week when asked if she had the votes wrapped up.

In what seemed an indication of confidence, Pelosi told reporters Wednesday that Rep.-elect Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, will be sworn in, even as Democratic opponent Rita Hart's challenge to the election results remains under review by the House. Miller-Meeks is certain to vote against Pelosi to be speaker.

Even so, the terrain Pelosi faces will allow almost no margin for error.

The full House elects the speaker, and Democrats will have the chamber's smallest majority in 20 years in a vote in which Republicans are certain to vote unanimously against her, joined by Democratic defectors. Democrats will have a 222-211 edge, with one race still undecided and one vacancy after Rep.-elect Luke Letlow, R-La., died Tuesday after battling COVID-19.

The raging coronavirus pandemic, combined with routine illnesses and the usual risks of wintertime travel, could make attendance unpredictable for the first House roll call in months that lawmakers will have to attend in person. To avoid risks of exposure to COVID-19, the House altered its rules this year to let its members vote by proxy from their homes, but that change dies with the old Congress.

“I'm fine,” Pelosi said when asked if COVID-19 absences were a concern.