“We led the way in 2018. We will lead it now, and, again, until everybody else has their houses in order,” she continued. “But we cannot show any division. This has to be about unity, unity, unity.”
The briefing comes as Sen. Bernie Sanders continues to dominate in the early nominating contests and is within striking distance of former Vice President Joe Biden in South Carolina — fueling panic among some of the most vulnerable Democrats about having a self-described socialist at the top of the ticket.
Pelosi did not mention Sanders and in no way implied the briefing was related to his frontrunner status. In fact, Pelosi reiterated to her members and reporters afterward that the eventual nominee would be “embraced” by congressional Democrats.
“I would hope that everyone would say, no matter who the nominee is for president, we whole-heartedly embrace that person,” she said during the caucus meeting.
But several other House Democrats said the timing of the briefing was certainly fortuitous given the informal private discussions some members have had about how to stop Sanders at the convention if he only secures a plurality — not a majority — of delegates.
Two years after the brutal 2016 primary, the DNC instituted sweeping reforms, including new rules that stripped superdelegates of much of their power. The move blocked these unpledged delegates, like elected officials and party leaders, from casting a vote for any presidential candidate unless a second ballot is required at the nominating convention.
Pelosi requested a briefing of the delegate selection process, according to a source with knowledge of the meeting. The briefing is the same given to press and stakeholders and will focus on the DNC’s nominating process, the source said.
Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s spokesman, downplayed the meeting’s timing in a statement.
“In the months ahead, there are important dates that relate to delegate selection, the establishment of committees and other member opportunities, and that’s what this briefing will address,” Hammill said.
But after Sanders’ steady rise and domination in the first three early states, an increasing number of moderate House Democrats have raised alarms that he could do major damage to down-ballot candidates and have discussed several potential ways to blunt his momentum before it’s too late.
At the Nevada presidential debate last week, the Democratic candidates were pressed about the possibility of a brokered convention in Milwaukee this summer if no candidate has yet won the majority of delegates required to secure the nomination.
Every Democrat on the stage except for Sanders said the process should work its will, suggesting cobbling together a majority of delegates at the convention would be necessary.
“The will of the people should prevail,” Sanders countered. “The person with the most votes should become the nominee.”
Sanders and his campaign have argued that if any candidate enters the convention with a plurality of delegates — but still short of the 1,991 delegates needed to win the nomination — that the voters’ wishes should be heeded.
But House Democrats, many of whom were not pleased when the DNC reined in the power of superdelegates, want to know what the new rules mean for them.
“Some people don’t know the rules, because the rules have changed,” said Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), who endorsed former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and has been vocal about his opposition to Sanders winning the nomination.
One House Democrat said that growing concern about Sanders among lawmakers on the ground in South Carolina is “palpable.”
Ahead of the South Carolina primary this weekend, a number of House Democrats who have endorsed different candidates are in the Palmetto state and are holding conversations on the sidelines of events. The hope among more moderate Democrats is that after the March 3 Super Tuesday primaries, a clear centrist candidate will emerge, and lawmakers can join forces behind that candidate. But at this stage it’s more of a hope than a concrete plan.
DNC Chair Tom Perez is not scheduled to be at the Thursday briefing, which will be run by committee staff. Perez has had a tumultuous relationship with various factions of the Democratic Caucus since taking charge of the national committee in 2017, and those tensions have nearly boiled over in recent weeks.
In 2018, the Congressional Black Caucus took a vote of “no confidence” in Perez over the issue of superdelegates. Since the debacle of the Iowa caucuses earlier this month, a growing number of black lawmakers have voiced displeasure with Perez’s leadership, and at least three have called on him to resign.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus has also voiced its frustrations to Perez. A meeting between progressives and Perez a week after the botched Iowa vote was described as “tense,” according to sources in attendance, who added that multiple members confronted Perez over the role of superdelegates and who will sit on the standing committees for the 2020 convention, which could play a role in a convention battle.
Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.