WASHINGTON — Lawmakers return to work this week to wrap up the legislative year with a spending bill that President Donald Trump has vowed to veto if it doesn’t include border wall funding, creating a potential stalemate that could lead to a partial government shutdown.
Democrats in the House, meanwhile, face a vote on their leadership for the next Congress and will elect a new speaker to lead the chamber in battles with a contentious president and a Republican-controlled Senate.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., appears positioned to win back the speakership she once held, although some more centrist Democrats who just won their races in Republican-leaning areas pledged to vote against her during their campaigns.
But no formidable candidates have emerged to challenge Pelosi, and despite polls that show her more polarizing than Trump, she is a proven strategist and vote counter, and Democrats are ready to hand her the speakership.
Pelosi said at a news conference before Thanksgiving that she has the votes to be elected speaker of the 116th Congress, which begins Jan. 3, 2019.
“I have overwhelming support in my caucus to be speaker of the House,” Pelosi said at a Capitol Hill news conference.
Democrats will vote on their new leaders Nov. 28.
Where Nevada’s Dems stand
Nevada’s two new House Democratic lawmakers, Rep.-elect Steven Horsford and Rep.-elect Susie Lee, called questions about a Pelosi speakership premature during the campaign.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., who is rising up the party leadership ladder, noted immediately after the election that while there has “been a lot of grumbling” about Pelosi, no credible candidate had emerged to replace the longtime lawmaker and party leader.
Titus signed on to a letter of Democratic women in the House who support Pelosi to be speaker in the next Congress.
The letter was also signed by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., head of the House Progressive Caucus, who called Pelosi “the best person for the job.”
About 16 Democrats said they plan to vote against Pelosi, but without a credible challenger, some see the protest vote as one to leverage for rule changes and committee restructuring.
The letter said the signees wanted a “change” in leadership.
Pelosi also helped usher in a “blue wave” of lawmakers to flip control of the House, with an incoming freshman class that will include the most women in history.
“I enjoy a tremendous amount of support from the women in our caucus,” Pelosi said.
Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, considered a run for speaker but dropped her bid and endorsed Pelosi just before Thanksgiving. Another holdout also dropped his opposition after Pelosi promised a committee assignment.
Meanwhile, Pelosi has met with incoming freshman Democrats, many of whom were helped with financial contributions to their campaigns by the California leader, to shore up support ahead of this week’s vote.
Republicans chose Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to be House minority leader in the upcoming Congress. He defeated Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a founding member of the conservative Freedom Caucus.
McCarthy vowed to win back the House in 2020, when he would be in line to become speaker.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., did not seek re-election.
Spending bill debate
But Ryan has been instrumental in talks with the Senate and the White House as lawmakers craft an end-of-year spending bill to fund some government departments and agencies.
Trump has vowed a partial government shutdown if the spending bill does not include a substantial amount of money for his promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
And complicating the negotiations is a proposal by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to attach language that would protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, which Trump has dubbed a “witch hunt.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who did not seek re-election, said he, too, would like to see protections for the special counsel investigation in the spending bill.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other House and Senate Republican leaders have blocked legislation to protect the special counsel investigation, saying the measure isn’t needed.
Pelosi said House Democrats will demand that the bill include language that protects the special counsel from being fired without cause and stipulates that if he is fired, he will be granted a hearing before a three-judge panel.
Democrats also want language that would require a Senate-confirmed attorney general to fire the special counsel.
Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions immediately after the election and appointed Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general. Whitaker, who has criticized the Mueller investigation in the past, has not been confirmed to the post by the Senate.