WASHINGTON: Nancy Pelosi, the highest-ranking woman in the history of US politics, was easily re-elected on Wednesday (Nov 28) to lead congressional Democrats, a major step on her march toward once again becoming speaker of the House of Representatives.
The California lawmaker ran unopposed to lead the House Democratic caucus, a show of strength and strategic skill by the 78-year-old Pelosi as the party elected a slate of Democrats to fill leadership roles.
But Pelosi, who in a historic turn first wielded the speaker's gavel a decade ago, nonetheless faces resistance.
Thirty-two critics voted against her in the closed-door session with 235 Democratic lawmakers and members-elect, meaning she will have work to do to unify the party ahead of a House floor vote for speaker on Jan 3, the opening day of the new Congress.
"I'm proud to be the nominee of the House Democratic caucus once again for speaker of the House," said Pelosi, standing shoulder to shoulder with top Democrats including civil rights icon John Lewis.
"Are there dissenters? Yes," she acknowledged. "But I expect to have a powerful vote as we go forward."
A robust resistance movement has demanded a new generation of leadership following a strong showing in this month's midterm elections, when Democrats snatched the House majority from President Donald Trump's Republicans.
Pelosi needs a simple majority on the House floor - 218 votes in the 435-member chamber - to prevail in January.
If Democrats win the handful of remaining undecided House races they will control 235 seats, meaning Pelosi can afford just 17 defectors.
No Republicans are expected to vote for Pelosi, who has been demonized for years by Trump and his party, in large part because she shepherded then-president Barack Obama's health law through the House to its contentious, historic passage in 2010.
Sixteen Democrats signed a letter this month vowing to oppose Pelosi as speaker.
Pelosi has negotiated with some of the rebels, placating them with plum committee assignments and pledging to address issues such as gun safety.
But two of the critics who met with Pelosi Wednesday said they remained at odds, and that her speakership quest was in peril.
"Right now, Leader Pelosi will not have the 218 votes necessary to become Speaker," congressman Seth Moulton said in a statement, adding that "no one wants to see this civil conversation spill into a floor fight."
Pelosi, a master legislator and political strategist who served as House speaker for four years from 2007, played a pivotal role in her party's winning performance in the midterms.
She raised millions of dollars for candidates and kept Democrats focused on their main hot-button issue on the campaign trail: health care.
Should she take the gavel from outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan, Pelosi would become second in line to the president, after Vice President Mike Pence - and seal her reputation as one of the great survivors in American politics.
She and the Democratic leadership would have the power to block Republican legislation, hamstringing large parts of Trump's agenda ranging from proposed new tax cuts to construction of a wall on the border with Mexico.
"We have been deputized to be a check and balance on the president," she said.
Democrats made history Wednesday in other leadership elections.
Hakeem Jeffries, seen as a rising star in the party, won a tight election to become House Democratic caucus chairman. Congress now has two African Americans in the leadership hierarchy - number three Democrat James Clyburn is the other - for the first time ever.
Congresswoman Joyce Beatty said Pelosi is ready to "work with" Trump, but is also skilled enough to "outmanoeuvre" Republicans.
Asked whether she envisions Pelosi as a transitional figure in leadership, she recalled how no opponent stepped forward on Wednesday to challenge Pelosi.
"You can't have a transition without a candidate," Beatty told reporters.
"I don't know how you elect somebody who's imaginary."