Black lawmaker troubled by Pelosi’s caucus changes

A member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is sounding the alarm over the new changes floated by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), warning that the minority leader’s proposals could erode the power of African-American lawmakers even as they attempt to spread influence to younger members.

{mosads}In a note to fellow members of the CBC, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) praised Pelosi “for listening to the concerns” of Democrats seeking a new path forward after a disastrous election cycle that will put Republicans in charge of the White House and both chambers of Congress next year.

But he’s also worried that some of the proposals “may have severe unintended consequences that could diminish our power as a caucus” by preventing many longstanding CBC members from rising through the ranks.

Richmond said he’s particularly troubled that Pelosi’s proposals “seem to target the portfolio” of the third-ranking leadership post, currently held by Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), a 12-term CBC member, by making that position an elected seat reserved for lawmakers who have served three terms or less.

“I understand responsibilities will have to be reallocated in order to make room at the leadership table for others, but we must make sure that we do not send the message that, of the top three leaders, the Assistant Leader bears the blame for our losses,” Richmond wrote.

“As a general note, the proposal creates a number of positions that can only be filled by Members who have served fewer than three or four terms,” he added. “However, we have a number of Members who have been in Congress five or more terms, but have not been able to serve in leadership roles because of stagnation at the top of our leadership structure.”

Several sources on and off of Capitol Hill said Clyburn is also unhappy with the proposed changes. His office did not respond to a request for comment.

The pushback highlights the struggle facing Pelosi as she attempts to balance the various concerns of restive young Democrats, who are frustrated after a string of election losses dating back to 2010, while keeping her grip on the caucus amid a challenge to her 12-year reign from Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio).

Attempting to soften the outcry, Pelosi last week unveiled a handful of proposals designed to empower junior members even as she and her top deputies — Clyburn and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) — intend to remain in the top three spots.

Aside from the changes to Clyburn’s post, the proposals include:

• The creation of vice-ranking member positions on each committee, to be held by panel members who have served four terms or less.

• Making the now-appointed head of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC), a spot currently held by outgoing-Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), an elected position reserved for lawmakers serving fewer than three terms.

• The creation of five regional vice chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), to be elected by lawmakers from those regions.

More recently, Pelosi nominated three newer members to become vice-chairs of the DPCC, including Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), a 46-year-old CBC member just elected to his third term.

A senior Democratic aide noted Sunday that the proposed changes to the assistant leader post would not affect Clyburn, who would be grandfathered in, “so it’s really a debate for future caucuses.”

Pelosi has also said her reform proposals are not set in stone, but are merely designed to provide a launching point for further discussions within the caucus.

Still, the time for those discussions is running short — the Democrats’ leadership elections will be held Wednesday — and many members are banking that Pelosi’s proposals will come to fruition. Indeed, some are already sending letters to colleagues seeking the newly proposed posts.

Pelosi has long enjoyed the strong support of the CBC, and many members — including CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) — are publicly backing her amid the Ryan challenge. Among other things, black lawmakers have praised Pelosi’s decision not to limit seniority on committees, many of which have ranking members representing the CBC.

“That’s the third-rail for her,” a former leadership staffer told The Hill this month. “She will never go there, because she loses the Black Caucus.”

Pelosi this month acknowledged the dispute over leadership seniority, but indicated she’s not backing down from her current position.

“There’s a lot of unease as people have always wanted to — many have said they wanted to — have term limits in the committee so that they can rise up,” she told reporters just before the Thanksgiving recess.

“I said, ‘If you want that you have to go fight for it.’ Because that’s the debate within our caucus.”

There’s also been a push to make the DCCC chairmanship an elected post. And Richmond, in his recent letter, lamented the exclusion of that change among Pelosi’s proposals.

“There is a strong desire to make this an elected position,” he wrote.

Richmond, a 43-year-old lawmaker who’s said to be eying the CBC chairmanship in the next Congress, has not called for a change of leadership. But before the break, he did urge the Democrats to deepen their message in order to appeal to a broader swath of voters.

“I’m from the South [where] we don’t have many seats,” he said. “We have to just demonstrate to people, especially in the South, that the Democratic Party is a big-tent party for people with divergent views. My governor in Louisiana is a pro-gun, pro-life Democrat. And we have to let people know that there is room for [them].”

The CBC is expected to meet on Tuesday, ahead of Wednesday’s leadership votes.

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