Black Caucus calls for African-American representation among House leadership

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) are calling for an African-American lawmaker to be granted the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in the House if Democrats win back the majority next week, setting up a potentially messy and dramatic leadership battle on the left.

CBC Chairman Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondWhitaker takes grilling from House lawmakers Judge tosses lawsuit seeking redo of controversial Saints-Rams game Congressional Black Caucus faces tough decision on Harris, Booker MORE (D-La.) is circulating a new “Dear Colleague” letter, which was obtained by The Hill and first reported by Politico on Thursday, making that position clear to fellow Democrats. The jockeying is heating up ahead of the Democratic leadership elections that are scheduled for Nov. 28.

“Over the past couple of weeks, several of our colleagues have respectfully shared letters of intent expressing interest in various House Democratic Caucus leadership positions,” Richmond wrote in the letter.

“It is within that context that I’d like to reiterate that if there is any change in our top leadership positions the Democratic Members of the CBC endorse African-American representation in at least one of the two top positions of elected House Democratic Caucus leadership.”

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Some Democratic sources are not interpreting the letter as a threat to directly challenge House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiNational emergency declaration — a legal fight Trump is likely to win Congress allows Violence Against Women Act to lapse High stakes as Trump, Dems open drug price talks MORE (D-Calif.) or Minority Whip Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Winners and losers in the border security deal Overnight Defense: Trump to sign funding deal, declare national emergency | Shanahan says allies will be consulted on Afghanistan | Dem demands Khashoggi documents MORE (D-Md.), but instead taking it as indication that the CBC would only make a run if one of those spots became open, pointing to text in the letter that says, “if there is any change in our top leadership positions.”

While the letter makes clear that the CBC would like one of their own at the very top, it does not explicitly endorse Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the No. 3 House Democrat, for the job.

But with growing calls for a younger and more diverse leadership, some frustrated rank-and-file have made the argument that Clyburn could make history by becoming the first black Speaker, while also serving as a “bridge” to the new generation.

However, Pelosi and Hoyer are expected to run for Speaker and Majority Leader, respectively, if Democrats win back the House. The pair, along with Clyburn, have held a firm grip on power for more than a decade.

Clyburn has made clear he also intends to stick around in the leadership ranks, but said he would only run for the Speaker’s gavel if Pelosi can’t secure the votes. He has not indicated whether he’d be willing to directly challenge Hoyer, whom he challenged in 2010 for Democratic whip but dropped out after it became clear Clyburn didn't have enough support.

“I applaud the efforts of our current leadership team that has worked tirelessly to push the party’s legislative agenda forward amidst the challenges we face daily,” Richmond said. “However, our celebration of diversity as a strategic imperative and strength of the Democratic party and the application of equitable value to the roles that CBC members play in our caucus’s effort remain inconsistent with the composition of our most powerful leadership roles.”

“After 229 years as a Congress, we have never had an African American in either of the top two leadership positions,” he added. “It’s time we walk our talk and provide the transformational change our constituents are calling for.”

The letter could be an effort by the CBC, a powerful voting bloc in the Democratic caucus, to lay down a marker in the leadership battle and gain some leverage, potentially cutting a deal with Pelosi for majority leader.

And Pelosi has sought to tamp down any potential challenge in recent days, promising to serve as a “transitional” Speaker and sending a subtle message to both Hoyer and Clyburn in the process: I'll be the bridge to the next generation.

The CBC did not return an immediate request for comment.