Higgins now says he'll back Pelosi for speaker

NY Democrat reverses course

By CNN'S CLARE FORAN CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT.
CNN

Nancy Pelosi

(CNN) - New York Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins announced Wednesday he will support Rep. Nancy Pelosi's bid for House speaker, despite having signed a letter opposing the House Democratic leader released earlier this week.

Higgins' support removes another obstacle between Pelosi and the speaker gavel.

"Following conversations with Nancy and other Caucus leaders, I have renewed confidence that more voices will be heard, that members will each have greater opportunities to advance policies meaningful to the communities and country we love," Higgins said in a statement.

Higgins told CNN that he and Pelosi had spoken "five times in the last 72 hours" in order to get his commitments to change course and back her for speaker. Higgins said Pelosi did not tell him when she would leave the speakership, but that he believes she is likely to bow out after the 2020 elections.

Higgins said he got Pelosi to commit to prioritizing a $1 trillion infrastructure bill and a measure to allow people 50 and older to buy into Medicare.

Pelosi has been working hard this fall to win support from her caucus to become the next House speaker after Democrats take over the majority next year, in spite of some members of her caucus and Democratic candidates in the midterms running on a campaign pledge of calling for new party leadership.

Pelosi held the position of speaker of the House from 2007 to 2011, but in Monday's letter, 16 Democrats called for a leadership change following what had been a simmering resistance from within the party.

"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.

Higgins told CNN it was clear that the group of Pelosi detractors has no real alternative or strategy right now. He said it makes no sense for the detractors to pursue this fight and force the speaker's vote on the floor to go to a second or third ballot.

"There is no alternative right now," Higgins told CNN. "Why is someone not willing to step up?"

Since the midterms, Pelosi has maintained confidence she'll be the next speaker and has gone out of her way to meet privately with critics to hear their concerns. Higgins' announcement also follows Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge's endorsement of Pelosi on Tuesday. Fudge had weighed challenging Pelosi for speaker and had been her most likely potential challenger. Fudge and Pelosi met last week.

Some members of the group of detractors, including Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, have asked Pelosi to say she's leaving at a certain time. But Higgins said that in their talks Pelosi did not specify her timetable -- and would not say who her preferred candidate is to succeed her, largely because she would be accused of playing favorites.

"A leader's not going to do that, and we don't want the leader to do that," Higgins said when asked if she had specified the time she would leave, though he said she had reiterated she would be a "transitional" leader. "Here's what I think that means: I think that means she will not be the leader beyond 2020."

But he quickly added: "Did she that explicitly say so? No."

In a statement on Wednesday, Pelosi said she was "honored" by Higgins' support.

"His Medicare buy-in proposal is a central to this debate, as we work to build on the Affordable Care Act," she said. "We looking forward to working together to lower the cost of health care for hard-working families and raise their paychecks by building infrastructure of America, which is also an important issue to Congressman Higgins."

Higgins said he plans to "continue to advocate" for those issues with the support of the leadership.

"A principled stand, however, often requires a pragmatic outlook in order to meet with success. I look forward to new beginnings in the 116th Congress, where with leadership's help, I will continue to advocate for these changes so that this body can better fulfill its constitutional roles," he said.

This story has been updated to include additional statement from Rep. Brian Higgins.

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