Dems head into intraparty fight as Hoyer launches minority whip bid

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) formally announced his bid for minority whip late Monday even as party officials worked to head off an acrimonious fight within the Democratic leadership.

“I have received support from across the breadth of our caucus to remain in the second ranking position of our Democratic leadership team,” Hoyer said in a statement. “In order to defend and build on our Democratic accomplishments, unify our caucus, and immediately begin the hard work of winning back the majority, I will be running for Democratic whip.”


His declaration came as Democratic lawmakers urged party leaders to resolve a battle between Hoyer and Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the majority whip who is running to keep the post in the minority. Hoyer and Clyburn met Monday at the Capitol and met separately with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a Democratic aide said.


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Their race followed Pelosi’s decision last week to seek the minority leader post in the new Congress. The Speaker rejected calls from conservative Democrats to step aside in the wake of her party’s election defeat.


Hoyer has made an aggressive public play for momentum in the race, and a source close to the majority leader said Monday night that he was “very confident he has the votes” to defeat Clyburn. Hoyer’s allies have pushed a proposal in which each member of the Democratic leadership would move down one slot in the minority, with Hoyer claiming the whip post and Clyburn becoming caucus chair.


Clyburn has thus far rejected that idea. In an indication that the race had yet to be resolved, Hoyer’s formal declaration was quickly followed by an e-mail from the vice chairman of the Democratic caucus, Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), announcing his endorsement of Clyburn. Becerra, who would be pushed out of the hierarchy under the Hoyer scenario, became the first member of the leadership team to pick a side.


“James Clyburn deserves to be re-elected Democratic whip in the 112th Congress,” Becerra said. “Through some of the toughest legislative efforts in recent history—from health care to Wall Street reform—Mr. Clyburn found us the votes when they counted most.”


Earlier Monday, Clyburn also scored the endorsements of both House leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.). “I support Mr. Clyburn. They both have been effective leaders, but Jim Clyburn is our whip, and he’s been a good whip,” the co-chair of the progressive caucus, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), told The Hill. Woolsey said Grijalva was also backing Clyburn, although the caucus as a whole was not taking a position in the intra-party battle.


“We’ll be working it [for Clyburn], but not for the progressive caucus,” Woolsey said. Grijalva was not available for comment.


Woolsey panned the proposal floated by the Hoyer camp for each of the top four House Democratic leaders to move down a post in order of their rank in the new Congress. Both the current caucus chairman, Rep. John Larson (Conn.) and Becerra are running to keep their jobs.


“The bump-down scenario I don’t think is a solution,” Woolsey said. “My solution is not to force a run-off between John Larson and Xavier.” She added that party leaders are trying to work out a deal that would satisfy the contenders and that she hoped it could be resolved in the coming days.


Reps. Luis Gutierrez (Ill.), Peter DeFazio (Ore.) and Bobby Rush (Ill.) were among other Democrats to announce their support for Clyburn on Monday, though Hoyer retained a clear edge in public endorsements.


The outgoing chairwoman of the Joint Economic Committee, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.), told The Hill she was supporting Hoyer for whip but she wanted Clyburn to remain in the leadership as caucus chairman, along with Pelosi as minority leader. “I think everybody should take a step down,” Maloney said. “I think we need all three of them in the leadership. I feel strongly about that.”


Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.) announced her support for Hoyer, and Reps. Niki Tsongas (Mass.) and Betty Sutton (Ohio) also backed Hoyer on Monday, a source close to the majority leader said.


There were other signs Monday that the Hoyer-Clyburn battle was irritating rank-and-file members. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (Ill.) issued an unusual statement criticized the “infighting” within the leadership. He suggested Hoyer and Clyburn team up to run the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee instead of competing for minority whip. The idea appeared to gain no traction within the caucus.

 

Jordan Fabian contributed to this article.