By Molly K. Hooper - 11/13/10 09:00 PM EST
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) asked her colleagues Saturday to support
Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) for "Assistant Leader," a newly
created third-ranking position at the leadership table.
In a letter to her fellow Democrats, Pelosi wrote "should I receive the privilege of serving as House Democratic Leader, I will be very honored to nominate our outstanding colleague, Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, to serve in the number three House Democratic position. I will also ask the Caucus to designate that position as Assistant Leader."
The late Friday night news ended an internecine battle between current Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Clyburn, both vying to be the No. 2 ranked House Dem in the 112th Congress.
According to a source close to Clyburn, the “solution” is to create a third-ranking Democratic leadership position that “would maintain the diversity of the Caucus as well as the wishes of a majority of the Caucus, that (Clyburn) remain in the number three leadership post.”
With the loss of the Speaker’s gavel, at least one Democrat in the leadership team was to be squeezed out of a high-ranking position.
But Pelosi appeared to avoid that scenario with the creation of this new No. 3 position, though the title and portfolio remained to be determined, according to a Democratic leadership source.
In a statement released at 11:01 p.m., Pelosi said that she would nominate Clyburn to be the No. 3 ranking House Democrat when the caucus elects their leadership team next week.
"Should I receive the honor of serving as House Democratic Leader, I will nominate Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina to the number three leadership position," Pelosi said.
Under the new arrangement, Pelosi would remain the top-ranking House Democrat, Hoyer would move to Minority Whip, Clyburn would take on the new role and current Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.) will likely remain in that role.
At this time, the races for the top four positions are uncontested.
It was unclear how the budgets and staff sizes for leadership in the minority party would be divvied up, though.
Hoyer was conspicuously not mentioned in Pelosi’s Friday night statement -- an indication that he did not participate in the solution to appease Clyburn.
The moderate-leaning Maryland Democrat spent the past five days highlighting his endorsements from members of the caucus in his bid to retain the No. 2 ranked position.
Sources in the caucus were convinced that Hoyer had the needed votes to win in a head-to-head with Clyburn -- a battle that pitted a Blue Dog moderate against the highest-ranking African-American lawmaker in the House.
The Congressional Black Caucus has intensified its lobbying for Clyburn, who has thus far rejected the idea of accepting a lower position or another offer such as a ranking membership on the Appropriations Committee or one of its subcommittees.
But sources close to Hoyer appeared confident that the former Minority Whip rounded up a majority of the new caucus.
Hoyer’s office was unavailable for comment at the time of positing.
A source close to Clyburn, however, asserted that “a significant number of members withheld their support for either candidate because they did not want the Whip race to come to a vote.”
Pelosi’s announcement on Friday night capped the end of a frustrating day for House Democrats, after Caucus Chairman Larson released the schedule for leadership elections to be held next week.
In a calculated political move, Larson -- who had no intention of giving up his position for Clyburn -- scheduled the leadership elections so that the caucus will vote to fill the Caucus Chairman spot before Minority Leader and Minority Whip.
In doing so, Larson ensured that Clyburn could not run for Caucus Chairman should he have lost to Hoyer.
On Friday afternoon, Democratic lawmakers foreshadowed Pelosi's announcement in telling The Hill that the leadership team should
create another seat at the table specifically for Clyburn in order to stave off
a nasty fight between two respected leaders.
Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) told The Hill that party leaders should “create the number of positions that are needed” so that both Hoyer and Clyburn can stay in leadership. “I fully expect that we’re going to have an arrangement where both Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn are in the leadership of the caucus,” he said.
Fattah, who is mounting a longshot bid for ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, said that in his calls with 60 to 70 members of the Democratic caucus, there was a widespread desire to make sure both Hoyer and Clyburn remained in leadership.
After the 2008 election, Pelosi created the appointed post of assistant to the Speaker to give the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), a seat at the table and an expanded policy portfolio.
Earlier in the week Rep. Charles Rangel (N.Y.) told the New York Observer: “If I had my druthers, I'd just put another chair up there. What the hell?"
Russell Berman contributed to this story
This story was updated from a 2 p.m. version