Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) needed nearly every last vote to win another stint as speaker of the House on Sunday.
Before the vote, 427 members of the House answered present when roll was called, 220 Democrats and 207 Republicans. That meant that Pelosi would need a majority of 214 votes to return as speaker, so she could lose just six Democratic votes to retain her post.
She lost five.
But in an odd twist that could only come amid a pandemic, House officials built a special plexiglass box in the chamber Sunday so that members who had been exposed to COVID-19 — or, in one case, had tested positive but been cleared from quarantine — could still cast their votes.
One Republican was outraged by the move. “To build a structure like that, in the dark of night, to only protect the votes that Speaker Pelosi needs to get reelected speaker, is shameful,” said Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), the top Republican on the House Administration Committee.
Davis said the “lack of communication with the minority” party in the House made the move “100% political.”
“This is completely against everything we’re told throughout this entire pandemic for house operations,” Davis told reporters Sunday.
In the end, 427 lawmakers voted for a House member, including Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), who tested positive for the coronavirus on Dec. 28 but was cleared from quarantine at midnight and traveled to Washington to cast her vote.
But five Democrats either cast their ballots for someone other than Pelosi or simply voted “present.”
Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME) was the first to defect from his party, voting instead for Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) followed, voting for House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY).
Reps. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) each voted “present.”
All five had opposed Pelosi two years ago. Lamb voted for former Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA), while Golden, Sherrill, and Spanberger voted for Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), then the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman. Slotkin voted “present” at the time.
Pelosi has led the Democratic Party in the House since 2003 and is the only woman ever to hold the office of speaker. Pelosi received 216 votes to 209 for Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who again will be the chamber’s minority leader.
In 2019, 15 Democrats didn’t back Pelosi, who this time became just the sixth speaker in history to win with fewer than 218 votes.
Democrats had only one absence — 84-year-old Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida, who is battling pancreatic cancer. Two Republicans also weren’t present to vote — Reps.-elect David Valadao of California and Maria Elvira Salazar of Florida, who both tested positive for the coronavirus in recent days, Politico reported.