Pelosi shuts outspoken critic out of Judiciary slot

Nancy Pelosi

The decision by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to block Rep. Kathleen Rice from the House Judiciary Committee sparked outcry from members of the New York delegation | Win McNamee/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi exacted revenge against one of her most outspoken detractors Tuesday night, blocking Rep. Kathleen Rice from landing a seat on the high-profile House Judiciary Committee.

Pelosi lobbied for other members to join the panel over Rice, leaving the third-term New York Democrat off a list of her preferred members for the committee during a tense closed-door meeting Tuesday night, according to multiple sources. The effort came despite a full-court push from the New York delegation to secure a spot for Rice, a former prosecutor, on the panel that oversees everything from impeachment to guns to immigration.

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The push by Pelosi was seen as payback by many in the room after Rice was one of the main megaphones behind a campaign to block the California Democrat from becoming speaker again.

“She was boxed out and the result was cooked before we walked in the room,” said a source in the room. “If you went by seniority then yes [she would have got the position]. But that’s not what happened. Scores being settled was first priority.“

But the decision by Pelosi to block Rice from the committee, instead recommending several freshmen to fill the open slots on the panel, sparked outcry from members of the New York delegation, who felt like Rice deserved the position as the more senior lawmaker.

Pelosi argued that New York was already well represented on the panel, both with its chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler, and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries. But Rice backers point out that if that’s the case, why did Pelosi recommend Florida Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a freshman lawmaker with far less seniority than Rice, for the panel when two other Floridians, Reps. Ted Deutch and Val Demings, sit on the committee.

It was also the latest slight for New York members, who were still upset that another member of their delegation, freshman Rep. Anthony Brindisi, was blocked from getting on the Armed Services Committee on Monday night.

Brindisi, one of nearly two dozen freshmen Democrats in districts won by President Donald Trump, was also a Pelosi critic on the campaign trail, vowing to oppose her for speaker. Brindisi followed through with his campaign pledge, voting for former Vice President Joe Biden earlier this month instead.

Brindisi being blocked from the Armed Services committee angered some of his fellow New Yorkers, according to Democratic sources, but not enough to force the issue since he was a freshmen. Still, the New York delegation held a late-night conference call Monday night and vowed to push harder for Rice when the Steering Committee, which oversees committee assignments, reconvened Tuesday night.

Pelosi’s move to block Rice comes despite a promise to rebels trying to oust her this winter that she would not seek to retaliate against them. As part of a deal that won the Californian the last votes to claim the gavel, Pelsoi vowed not to enact revenge against the group that tried to push her out of leadership.

But people in the room saw something else happen Tuesday night entirely.

After Pelosi announced her recommendations for the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday night, a slate that noticeably did not include Rice, other lawmakers started to speak up.

Meeks and Jeffries spoke on Rice’s behalf during the meeting, according to multiple sources. Jeffries praised Rice as an effective legislator and argued she’d be a strong addition to the panel.

Rice also had a letter signed by a vast majority of New York Democrats supporting her bid to get on the committee.

Lawmakers in the room requested a vote on each member who was trying to get onto Judiciary, with the thinking that Rice would have enough support to win one of the spots that way. But instead the panel held an up-or-down secret ballot vote on Pelosi’s slate, one the speaker won via 27-21, according to multiple sources in the room.

“It was taken to a recorded vote and she lost,” said a Democratic aide who was in the room. “Not every member gets what they want.”

The vote was unusually close for the Steering Committee, a panel that Pelosi stacks with her allies, according to these sources, and shows the support that Rice, who was not present, had within the meeting.

In total, nine Democrats will be joining the Judiciary Committee, which will be ground zero for the barrage of investigations Democrats are expected to launch into President Donald Trump, his personal life and his administration.

California Rep. Lou Correa and freshman Reps. Mary Gay Scanlon and Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia of Texas, Lucy McBath of Georgia, Mucarsel-Powell of Florida, Joe Neguse of Colorado and Greg Stanton of Arizona were picked to join the panel.

“There were two New Yorkers who didn’t get what they wanted. One was Kathleen Rice, the other was Brindisi,” said a Democratic lawmaker in the room, adding the two “left themselves exposed” after voting against Pelosi for speaker.

Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.