Wait, Nancy Pelosi Voted for *Herself*?

We welcome once more Jeffery A. Jenkins of the University of Virginia.  Jenkins and Charles Stewart are the authors of the new book Fighting for the Speakership: The House and the Rise of Party Government.


While most reporters, pundits, and political scientists explored the ramifications and historical importance of the large number of defections on both sides of the aisle (but mostly on the GOP side) in yesterday’s House speakership election, one action was largely ignored.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi voted for herself for Speaker.

Pelosi’s actions weren’t new either, as she has now voted for herself for Speaker six consecutive times – in 2003 (108th Congress), 2005 (109th), 2007 (110th), 2009 (111th), 2011 (112th), and yesterday.  On two of those occasions, of course, her Democratic Party was in the majority (in 2007 and 2009), so her vote helped produce her own election as Speaker.

What about John Boehner?

He refrained from voting for himself for Speaker yesterday, and also did not do so in 2009 and 2011.  He did vote for himself, however, in 2007.

Looking back through the history, as far as I can tell, these are the only occasions in which a major party nominee has voted for himself/herself in a House speakership election.

Rep. Pelosi thus set a precedent in 2003 and has established a trend since then.  Whether you love her or hate her, I think it’s fair to say that it takes a special person to cast a vote for herself (year after year) in a public setting of that magnitude.

15 Responses to Wait, Nancy Pelosi Voted for *Herself*?

  1. Vance Maverick January 4, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

    Why does the old norm (of modesty or whatever) make sense? Has there ever been a speaker who was literally reluctant to serve?

  2. Augie January 4, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

    What ridiculous false modesty. Lets end that norm please.

  3. Matt Green January 4, 2013 at 9:51 pm #

    It’s not false modesty. It’s a reflection of a view, once far more common in the House, that speakers should be above the fray…and yes, that maybe they should be speaker because others want them as speaker, not (solely) because they themselves want the job. Even if it’s a facade, it lends itself to a sort of gentleman/lady style of politics that the House could probably use more of.

    • Nathanael January 7, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

      It lends itself to bogusness and phoniness. We’re well rid of it.

  4. RobC January 4, 2013 at 10:51 pm #

    Pelosi doesn’t blink at challenging tradition. However, that’s the only thing she doesn’t blink at.

  5. David Karol January 5, 2013 at 12:09 am #

    There is a parallel to the mostly defunct “myth of the reluctant candidate” that was the underpinning for vanished norms in Presidential elections. Most 19th century Presidential nominees didn’t stump. Even after challengers and open seat candidates started to your, Presidents still saw it as beneath their dignity to campaign until Wilson. Nominees did not give acceptance speeches at conventions until FDR because even being at the convention constituted tacit admission that a candidate was -horrors- actively seeking the nomination.

    In a general sense I agree with Matt that hypocrisy may have its uses, “the tribute that vice paya to virtue” etc, but that particular tradition was so dishonest for little evident societal gain. It was better for the country to see more of the candidates. The benefit from Speaker candidates voting for themselves is less evident, admitedly.

  6. Vance Maverick January 5, 2013 at 12:23 am #

    I wouldn’t claim that there’s a benefit to Speaker candidates voting for themselves — but quite seriously, what’s the benefit to their voting for others? This question goes to Matt too. Can you say more than the vague generalities you’ve given us? To me (a polite sort, pushing 50), for someone to vote for herself, far from surprising or shocking me, suggests that at least she honestly believes she’ll make a good Speaker.

  7. MK January 5, 2013 at 12:45 am #

    Question: If the Speaker historically didn’t vote for themselves, who did they vote for? The opposing party’s candidate? Or did they simply abstain from voting?

  8. Jeff Jenkins January 5, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    They typically abstain or vote “present.”

  9. Benjamin Thomas Sutpen January 5, 2013 at 8:41 am #

    Kind of unrelated but you know that Adenauer only was elected to the German chancellery the first time around because of one vote? His own…

    • SebastianS January 5, 2013 at 10:08 am #

      He needed his own vote to reach an absolute majority on the first ballot; the other candidate didn’t have one fewer vote, though

  10. Jeff Jenkins January 5, 2013 at 9:13 am #

    There are some similar, interesting stories over the House’s history. For example, in 1859, at the beginning of the 36th Congress, the House witnessed an extended speakership battle. It eventually lasted 44 ballots and 2 months. The Republicans were close to winning throughout, but they lacked several votes. At one point, late in the balloting, it appeared that the Democrats had found a way of winning, by joining with third party members. Their bare majority was thwarted, however, when the Republican speakership nominee, John Sherman (OH), saw what was happening and, before the vote was tallied, stood and voted — not for himself, but for a colleague (Thomas Corwin of Ohio, I believe). He had been abstaining to that point. By having his voted counted, he increased the overall vote total (the denominator) and thus raised the number of votes needed for a majority by one.

    The story is a little more complicated, but that’s the gist. There has been strategic Speaker voting across history. But voting for oneself is new.

  11. Jacob January 5, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

    If you think you’re the best person for the job, it is irresponsible and dishonest not to vote for yourself. Pelosi is neither.

  12. Vance Maverick January 6, 2013 at 1:51 am #

    Jeff, thanks for the followup.

    Ever since I can remember, the trips of the Presidential candidates to their local precincts have been a conventional photo-op. I’ve always presumed they were voting for themselves, though this wouldn’t be made explicit, out of respect for the secret ballot. How do you explain the difference? Is it that in the House (as in the College of Cardinals) all the candidates and all the voters are well-known to one another?

    • Jeff Jenkins January 6, 2013 at 8:31 am #

      I don’t know when the presidential voting photo op began, but probably in the modern era. As Matt notes, it wasn’t that long ago that presidential candidates behaved above the fray — not campaigning, not going to conventions, etc. I suppose there are parallels to speakership voting, although the latter is a much smaller population, composed entirely of elites (“colleagues”), and a public forum.

      It had usually been the case that both major speakership candidates abstained or voted “present” — thus their participation (and affect on the overall vote total) cancelled out. Reasonable people can disagree about such candidates voting for themselves. Some might see it as obvious, foolish if they didn’t, the right thing to do if they believed themselves the best to serve, etc. Others might see it as tacky, arrogant, ungentlemanly (ungentlewomanly) based on tradition, etc. I do think, however, that starting a new precedent in a public forum is hard to do — and many people wouldn’t want to be the one to do it. Pelosi did it.