WASHINGTON — Representative Seth Moulton says he buried the hatchet with the likely future House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, after she promised to limit her time in leadership to secure his and other critics’ votes.
The Salem Democrat became an unofficial spokesman for the opposition to Pelosi in recent weeks, attempting to recruit a challenger to run against her, gathering signatures on a letter asking her to step down, and trading barbs with her in remarks to the US Capitol press corps.
But all that is in the past, Moulton says.
“We’re all united behind her, but we’re a stronger party because of these reforms,” Moulton told the Globe Thursday.
Pelosi agreed to limit herself to three terms as speaker, including the two she has already served, with the option to extend to a fourth term if two-thirds of the Democratic caucus backs her. In a press conference Thursday, Pelosi appeared to assume that she would be serving two more terms, taking the future two-thirds support of her caucus as a given.
“Four years is a long time,” Pelosi, 78, told reporters when asked if she considered herself a lame-duck speaker after the deal. “I feel very comfortable about what they are proposing.”
The concession is significant, as Pelosi initially rebuffed any talk of term-limiting herself. But the longtime San Francisco lawmaker appears to have emerged from the tiff stronger than ever, earning the grudging admiration of even her political enemies for how she systematically neutralized the opposition to her speakership. She picked off lawmakers one by one, offering seats on task forces and reassuring them their policy priorities would get a vote on the floor.
Liberals rallied around her, and against her critics. Some Democrats in Moulton’s district protested his opposition to her and threatened to organize a primary challenge against him in 2020. At least one serious contender, outgoing state Senator Barbara L’Italien, has expressed interest in taking him on then.
Moulton said his constituents have reacted positively to the deal, and he believes they will understand that he took this stand in order to free up leadership positions for the next generation of Democrats. And, unlike other lawmakers who flipped their votes on Pelosi, Moulton notes that he had nothing to gain from her concession.
“I didn’t get any personal benefit out of this,” he said. “There’s no committee assignment I secured or something like that. I did this to do the right thing for the country and the party.”
Moulton, a Marine veteran who sits on the Armed Services Committee, has long had his eye on a seat on the Transportation Committee. But it’s unclear whether that’s in the cards after his spirited campaign against the future speaker.
And the Salem Democrat is baffled that anyone thinks his opposition to Pelosi was about positioning himself for a run for higher office, as some of his detractors have suggested.
“I obviously took some political heat for this, so I’m not sure why people think this is just a plan to run for higher office. It doesn’t really make sense to me,” he said. “I hope what people see is that I’m going to fight for what I believe is right for our country, no matter what the political cost.”
How meaningful Moulton and his fellow rebels’ campaign turns out to be depends upon whether Democrats adopt proposed new rules on House leadership. The caucus will vote in February on whether to accept term limits for the top three leadership posts. Pelosi says she will abide by the agreement even if it doesn’t pass, but her deputy, Steny Hoyer, has rejected the whole idea of term limits for positions like his own.
Despite this concession to her critics, Pelosi has had a good week. After sparring with President Trump over his demands for border wall funding on Tuesday, she strode from the White House wearing sunglasses and a knowing smile that instantly became a meme on social media. The rust-colored coat she was wearing sold out online, and the designer MaxMara announced it would release more in the new year. It was, in its way, her version of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s “she persisted” moment of 2017.
Moulton offered some praise for Pelosi’s maneuvering.
“I think she deserves a lot of credit for how she handled the meeting with Donald Trump,” he said. “But I’m also glad that she recognized that she had to come to the table with meaningful reforms to earn the votes with our group — that we weren’t going to play the transactional politics game of personal favors.”
Moulton’s past criticism of Pelosi was far more caustic at times. He told the Globe early last month that he believed Republicans talked of helping crown her as speaker because her unpopularity could make their job of winning back House seats easier in the next election cycle.
“Trump wants her to be speaker,” he had said then. “It’s perfect for him.”
When asked if he still felt that way, Moulton said he can’t speak for Republicans or Trump, saying the next two years will be challenging, no matter what.
Moulton, who emerged as a critic of Pelosi two years ago, was not directly involved in the recent negotiations with her, instead serving as the go-between between the Democrats who were in the room and the rest of the Democratic “no” votes in their group. He said he has no plans to meet with her anytime soon.
“We see each other all the time, every time we go to votes,” he said.