Ohio congresswoman may challenge Nancy Pelosi for speaker of the House

Rep. Marcia Fudge, a Cleveland Democrat who led the Congressional Black Caucus from 2012 to 2014, is considering challenging Nancy Pelosi for speaker of the House.

Fudge, whose spokeswoman said she was unavailable for comment Thursday, told Cleveland.com late Wednesday she was considering a run for the top leadership position, and a spokeswoman Thursday confirmed that she was considering running.

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On Thursday, Fudge told the Washington Post that she has been “overwhelmed” by the support of many of her colleagues, estimating that there are probably close to 30 Democrats who have signaled they would be willing to vote against Pelosi, who was speaker from 2007 to 2011. Pelosi — or anyone running for speaker — would need 218 votes to win the speaker position when the new Congress convenes Jan. 3.

Asked about a potential challenge by Fudge, Pelosi on Thursday replied, “Come on in. The water’s warm.”

Fudge is weighing a bid even as Rep. Tim Ryan, D–Niles, admits he hasn’t completely ruled out running himself. Ryan challenged Pelosi for House minority leader in 2016 after Democrats lost ground in the House, arguing that Democratic messaging was leaving those in Midwest industrial states cold. Ryan, along with Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., have been supportive of the possibility of Fudge challenging Pelosi. On the Republican end of the political spectrum, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, lost his race for House minority leader Wednesday to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican.

But other Democrats, including Rep. Joyce Beatty, D–Jefferson Township, and Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, have already pledged to back Pelosi, with Beatty one of the first to publicly endorse her after Democrats won back the House of Representatives on Nov. 6.

Democrats will vote as a caucus for their nominee for speaker on Nov. 28. While Pelosi is expected to win that vote, it’s unclear whether she’ll be able to garner the 218 necessary votes on the House floor in January.

RELATED: Tim Ryan to oppose Nancy Pelosi for speaker

In an interview with HuffPost, Fudge insisted “I don’t hate Nancy,” and that Pelosi “has been a very good leader,” but said it was time for a change. She said while she has not made a decision, she believed that Democratic leadership should reflect the diversity of the party itself. She added that one reason Pelosi has not been popular is because some see her as an “elitist.”

“She’s a very wealthy person, she raises a lot of money from a lot of other wealthy people,” Fudge told HuffPost.

Pelosi’s allies pointed out that Fudge is one of two House Democrats who has refused to cosponsor the Equality Act, which would extend civil rights protections to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Fudge told HuffPost she refused to cosponsor the bill not because she does not want to extend civil rights protections to LGBTQ Americans, but because she is reluctant to open up the Civil Rights Act to extend those protections. “If it were a standalone, I’d vote for it today,” she said, saying “The president of the United States is a racist, in my opinion. If we open up the Civil Rights Act, it’s like opening up Pandora’s Box.”

Fudge, who was previously the mayor of Warrensville Heights outside Cleveland, was elected to Congress in a special election in 2008 after the death of Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones.

Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Eckart, an Ohio Democrat, said if Fudge decides to run, she won’t do it for ego. Instead, he said, she is interested in having “a seat at the table.”

He said many Democrats are frustrated with the old traditions of giving leadership based on seniority. If she runs, he said, it’s because she want to represent those who haven’t felt they were represented.

“Marcia is anything but a spoiler,” he said, saying “she has credibility. She has been to many members’ districts and campaigned for them…I guess what I’m ttrying to say is she’s taken seriously by many, many members, she has paid her dues and I think it’s about leveraging for folks who have not benefited from the traditional processes of the Democratic caucus.”

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