WASHINGTON — Rep.-elect Donna Shalala, D-Fla., a contemporary of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi but one of the newest additions to her caucus, has a message for fellow incoming freshmen mulling over who should lead them. Pelosi, Shalala says, is the right person for a tough job.

The former Clinton Cabinet official said Pelosi has earned the right to the speakership, at least for now. “I would look at what the job is and it’s a little bit of herding cats and it’s a little bit about keeping a Democratic Party that’s full of lots of different points of view. And I think that Nancy has demonstrated that time and time again,” Shalala said in an interview alongside four other newly elected House Democratic women on ABC News’s “This Week.” “She has a backbone. She’ll stand up to a president.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi

Pelosi, who was House speaker from 2007 to 2011, faces a challenge in her bid to return in that post, fueled in part by resistance from incoming Democratic freshmen who pledged during their campaigns in conservative-leaning districts not to support her.

One of them, Rep.-elect Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, said she will honor the commitment. “If we are going to turn a page and bring civility back to the political discussions, we need to change the people who are directing that conversation,” Spanberger said, appearing with Shalala on ABC.

Congressional leadership elections are typically insider affairs. But Pelosi’s fate has grabbed national attention, with celebrities, outside Democratic luminaries, and liberal groups, including labor unions and grass-roots activists, weighing in on her behalf.

Democrats will have at least 233 seats in the new Congress, meaning Pelosi can afford to lose no more than 16 Democratic votes, assuming no Republicans back her.


So far, 20 Democrats oppose her, and 68 aren’t saying what they intend to do when the full House votes on the matter Jan. 3.

At the moment, however, Pelosi has no declared Democratic competition. A small group working to oust her has been unable to recruit a challenger, though Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, is weighing a run.

Pelosi is hustling to ensure that outcome, holding one-on-one meetings with lawmakers in her leadership office.

Her advisers closed last week signaling confidence. And there is evidence that the effort is paying off.

Rep.-elect Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., said in an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” that after meeting with the Democratic leader, she is “actually fundamentally leaning towards voting for her.”

“There are a lot of moving parts in leadership and many decisions that need to be made,” Houlahan said. “So I’m working hard to understand what all of my options are, how I can best serve my constituency.”

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