New York Democrat Backs Pelosi for Speaker Two Days After Signing Letter Pledging Not To

Higgins: 'I took a principled stand'

Nancy Pelosi / Getty Images

Rep. Brian Higgins (D., N.Y.) quickly abandoned the small rebellion against Nancy Pelosi to be the next Speaker of the House, announcing Wednesday he would support the lawmaker he previously called "aloof, frenetic and misguided."

The seven-term Buffalo congressman was one of 16 House Democrats who signed an open letter on Monday pledging to vote for new leadership, but he told The Buffalo News he changed his mind after Pelosi told him she would move two of his top priorities with their new majority to the front of the line: infrastructure and a proposal allowing people to buy into Medicare when they turn 50.

In a statement, Higgins cast his about-face as a "principled stand."

"Some will ask why I have changed my position," he said. "The answer is simple: I took a principled stand … A principled stand, however, often requires a pragmatic outlook in order to meet with success."

He blasted Pelosi in June, telling The Buffalo News he would not support her.

"She's listening, but this is my conclusion: She's aloof, frenetic and misguided," he said.

Higgins said a combination of conversations with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) about his legislative goals and the lack of an alternative to Pelosi helped make his decision to back her in the end.

This latest boost for Pelosi follows the decision of Rep. Martha Fudge (D., Ohio) to endorse Pelosi in lieu of running against her for Speaker. Fudge is also endorsing Rep. Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) and Rep. James Clyburn (D., S.C.) to retain their standing as the No. 2 and No. 3 Democrats in the House. The trio of Pelosi, Hoyer and Clybun are a combined 235 years old.

The math behind Higgins backing Pelosi is key. Democrats will control at least 233 seats in the incoming House, with three races still remaining to be called in the 2018 midterms. If only the 15 Democrats besides Higgins who signed the letter vote against her, Pelosi will have the 218 votes needed to become Speaker.

In the letter Higgins signed onto, the Democrats said they were "committed to voting for new leadership" after promising to "change the status quo." Pelosi has been the party's top-ranking Democrat in the House since 2003. Those signing the letter included Rep. Tim Ryan (D., Ohio) and Rep. Seth Moulton (D., Mass.), as well as several newly elected congressmen.

"As we head toward the 116th Congress and reclaim our Democratic majority, we believe more strongly than ever that the time has come for new leadership," the letter said.

"We promised to change the status quo, and we intend to deliver on that promise. Therefore, we are committed to voting for new leadership in both our Caucus meeting and on the House Floor."

Pelosi is trying to become Speaker for the second time. She previously held the gavel from 2007 to 2011. Republicans took control of the House after the Tea Party wave in 2010 and held the majority until getting soundly defeated on Nov. 6.