WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-2nd, kept his promise to vote “no” on Nancy Pelosi for speaker on his first day in Congress, but she was elected by a vote of 220-192.
Van Drew, who also vowed not to follow his party blindly, took his promise literally.
Most of his peers stood up and either said “Nancy Pelosi” or “Kevin McCarthy” for the Republican nominee. A few Democrats either gave a different name or said “Present.”
Van Drew simply said “No,” eliciting some confused laughter from the floor and the gallery. Afterward the clerk stated “Van Drew is present,” which seemed to indicate his vote was changed to “present” to meet the rules of the House.
Van Drew said via text message from the floor that he voted no, and it was recorded as such, but under the rules “they can change it” to “present.”
But Pelosi, the first woman to be speaker of the House, had more than enough votes to win the role for the second time, and she received a standing ovation from both Democrats and Republicans when her election was final.
Then she swore in all members of the House of Representatives at one time, including Van Drew.
Van Drew explained his vote and why he doesn’t think Pelosi will hold it against him or his district.
“It is not a personal affront,” said Van Drew. “I sat down with her early on and explained why, and the nature of the district.”
The district, which covers all of Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties and parts of Gloucester, Camden and Burlington counties, is fairly evenly split between the parties, with a large independent group. It voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016.
It also went from voting for a moderate Republican in Frank LoBiondo, who kept the seat for 24 years until deciding to retire, to moderate Van Drew.
Van Drew said he would prefer a speaker who can work in a more bipartisan manner and has new and fresh ideas, not someone who will bring back “the same animosities and lack of cooperation on both sides.”
He has said he wants more focus on issues such as Atlantic Ocean drilling, veterans care and Social Security, rather than involve the House in bitter partisan fighting.
Van Drew was one of 16 House members to sign a letter opposing Pelosi as speaker in November. But some have since changed their minds.
Atlantic County Young Republicans Chairman Brian Fitzherbert said Van Drew had broken his promise by voting the way he did.
“By stating he was voting for ‘no,’ his vote was actually recorded as merely being present, which helped hand Nancy Pelosi the speakership once again,” Fitzherbert said in a news release. “If he was a man of his word, he would have supported a real person against Pelosi to block her.”
But in the end, no other Democrat had emerged as wanting to take on Pelosi.
Van Drew spent Thursday morning getting his congressional pin, license plate and ID card, and greeting well wishers in his new office in the Cannon Office Building.
Van Drew Legislative Director Javier Gamboa led him from his new office on the third floor of the Cannon building through a labyrinth of basement hallways and tunnels to the House Speaker’s Office, where he picked up the accouterments of his office.
“This is my pass,” Van Drew said of the pin he put on his lapel. It and his ID card and license plate give him free access to just about everywhere on the Hill without having to go through endless rounds of security checks.
Van Drew was visible on the floor of the Chamber, carrying his grandchild and accompanied by his daughter as he spoke for a few moments to Pelosi at the start of the session.
Even after the session was gaveled in at noon, the prayer and flag salute done, the more than 400 members kept on meeting and greeting each other for more than a half hour.
The speaker vote happened first, before the swearing-in of new members, a House staffer explained, because there must be a speaker to do the swearing-in.
Another freshman congressperson from New Jersey, Mikie Sherrill, D-11th, also did not vote for Pelosi. She was one of those voting for a handful of other Congress members, none of whom apparently wanted the job.