Cicilline withdraws, clearing path for Clyburn to remain in leadership

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) will keep a spot in the top tiers of Democratic leadership next year.

House Democrats on Thursday elected the 30-year veteran to the position of assistant leader in the next Congress, making him the only figure among the old-guard triumvirate — Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Clyburn, the Democratic whip — to sit among the party brass in the 118th Congress.

Clyburn’s path was cleared when Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) dropped his competing bid for the assistant leader spot just moments before the closed-door vote. 

The outcome was expected. Clyburn is a revered figure in the party, having served as the No. 3 House Democrat since 2006 while playing a crucial role in President Biden’s successful White House run two years ago. And as recently as Wednesday morning, Clyburn was running unopposed, like the other top leadership candidates who won their bids this week: Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.).  

His primary argument to the caucus was that the South needed a voice at the leadership table as Democrats head into a critical 2024 presidential election, and his deep experience will be an asset to the younger leaders.

But his effort to remain in leadership infuriated some of the younger members of the caucus, who have long agitated for new faces at the top of the party and viewed Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn as a package deal: They would serve together, and step down simultaneously to clear the field for the next generation. 

Fueling that frustration, Clyburn’s bid forced Aguilar, who had signaled his intent to seek the assistant leader spot, to go after the caucus chairmanship instead. That had a significant impact on Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), who had already announced his candidacy for caucus chair but was forced to alter course and pursue the top spot on the Democrats’ messaging panel — a small promotion for Neguse, but not the high-profile caucus chair position he was after.   

Cicilline stepped into that maelstrom on Wednesday morning, announcing his surprise bid for the assistant leader spot just moments before Democrats began the voting process for the more senior spots. 

The chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, Cicilline made the case that the gay community also deserves representation in the party brass. To bolster his argument, he cited the recent shooting at a gay bar in Colorado, while noting that the only two LGBTQ+ members in the leadership ranks — Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) — both lost their reelections this cycle and will not be returning to Congress next year. 

In dropping out of the race, Cicilline was given assurances from leadership that the LGBTQ+ community would be represented elsewhere in the party brass, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.

Shortly after the Clyburn vote, Democrats elected Neguse for a newly created spot: the chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC), for which he ran unopposed. 

They also chose three co-chairs for the DPCC: Reps. Dean Phillips (Minn.), Veronica Escobar (Texas) and Lauren Underwood (Ill.), who will serve beneath Neguse to help craft the party’s messaging strategy.  

Updated at 11:52 a.m.

Tags David Cicilline James Clyburn Joe Biden Joe Neguse Nancy Pelosi Steny Hoyer

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