Deb Haaland, left, and Sharice Davids enjoy a moment with former vice president Joe Biden, seen here kneeling, at a Democratic event in Washington, D.C., on November 14, 2018. Photo: Deb 4 Congress

Native women support longtime Democratic leader ahead of key vote

By Acee Agoyo

The 116th Congress has yet to begin but the two Native women who won their historic campaigns are casting a key vote this week.

Democrats who will be serving in the U.S. House are meeting behind closed doors on Wednesday to choose their leaders. And both Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids have made it clear that they plan to vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker, the highest-ranking post in the chamber.

Haaland, who hails from the Pueblo of Laguna, has repeatedly spoken in support of Pelosi since winning election in New Mexico's 1st Congressional District.

“She’s the only person I believe that we need in this tumultuous time with the president we have, to stay on track to make sure that we are fulfilling promises to the American people,” Haaland said on the ABC News program “This Week” on November 18.

Davids, who will be representing the 3rd Congressional District in Kansas, went public with her support of Pelosi on Saturday.

"I also have said time and again that whoever would get my vote for speaker had to have a plan for fixing the way business is done (or more recently, not done) in Washington," the Ho-Chunk Nation citizen said in a statement in which she highlighted the youthful and diverse nature of the incoming class of Democratic lawmakers.

Despite securing the support of the first Native women to win election to the House, Pelosi has not found her path to leadership to be an easy one. Though she made history as the first woman to serve as Speaker more than a decade ago, she is facing opposition and criticism from members of her own party in her bid to reclaim the post.

But, as Davids pointed out, no one has officially announced a challenge to Pelosi, who represents California's 12th Congressional District. One lawmaker who was considering a run for Speaker, Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio, has voiced concerns about the party's commitment to diversity and protecting the voting rights of Native Americans and other minorities.

Fudge, however, endorsed Pelosi last week in light of concessions being made on those issues.

"I am now confident that we will move forward together and that the 116th Congress will be a Congress of which we can all be proud," she said in a statement.

Before Davids came forward, 16 Democrats -- including five newcomers -- said they would not support Pelosi for Speaker. Their November 19 letter called for "new leadership" in the House.

"There are plenty of strong Democratic options. I will vote for one of them," Ben McAdams, whose close race in Utah's 4th Congressional District was finally called in his favor later in the week, wrote in a post on Twitter.

Democrats have won at least 233 seats in the 435-member House. At the party's meeting in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Pelosi only needs a majority of those members to endorse her campaign for Speaker.

The official vote for Speaker will come after the 116th Congress convenes on January 3, 2019. Pelosi needs at least 218 votes to claim the title, so she can only afford to lose 16 members of her party, assuming all Republicans vote against her.

As Pelosi continues to rally support ahead of Wednesday's party meeting, her closest allies remain confident.

"She will be our next Speaker of the House," Rep. Ben Luján of New Mexico, who successfully oversaw the Democratic takeover of the chamber, asserted in a post on Twitter after the 16 Democrats released their letter last week. One of the signers, incidentally, has since reversed course and has endorsed Pelosi.

Luján, who grew up on the homelands of Nambé Pueblo in northern New Mexico, represents several tribes in the state's 3rd Congressional District. He is running for Assistant Democratic Leader and is part of the "new generation of outstanding candidates" whom Davids talked about in her statement on Saturday.

"The new generation of leaders is growing and we won’t be ignored," Davids said.

Up until issuing the statement, Davids had largely been silent on Pelosi, a frequent target of the GOP, in a district that was held by a Republican for nearly a decade. During the campaign, she pitched herself as a candidate who was willing to stand up to the Trump administration but also hold the Democratic leadership accountable.

Haaland was much more at ease with Pelosi in a district that has sent a Democrat to Capitol Hill in every election since 2009. The two appeared at a campaign event in August to call for greater protections for Native women by updating the Violence Against Women Act and by passing other initiatives, such as Savanna’s Act to address the crisis of missing and murdered Native women and girls.

“We must increase funding for tribal justice systems and track the data because Native women deserve to be counted and we deserve to live,” Haaland said at the August 7 event in Albuquerque, which is home to a large urban Native population.

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