Clyburn: I'll run for Speaker if Pelosi doesn't have enough votes to win

Clyburn: I'll run for Speaker if Pelosi doesn't have enough votes to win
© Greg Nash

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said he would step in to run for Speaker of the House if Democrats take back the chamber in November and Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDems see Kavanaugh saga as playing to their advantage Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her Sinema, Fitzpatrick call for long-term extension of Violence Against Women Act MORE (D-Calif.) does not appear to have the votes, he told The New York Times.

The comments are the latest indication he is exploring a run for the Speakership. 

“If the opportunity is there I would absolutely do it,” he told The New York Times, emphasizing that he still supports Pelosi, but wants to be ready should she fall short of the votes needed. 

Clyburn, who is currently the third highest ranking Democrat in the House, would be the body’s first black Speaker. He said his claiming the Speakership would “put to bed forever the notion that the Democratic Caucus is taking black voters for granted.” 

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While his potential ascension to the role would send a strong message, he has said his Speakership would not be merely symbolic and he would try to make significant changes to his party instead of just being a figurehead.

“I think our party needs to be transformed and that’s what I’m talking about,” Clyburn told McClatchy Tuesday. “Custodial? Lord, no.”

Pelosi responded to Clyburn’s comments, seemingly unperturbed by his interest in the Speaker’s gavel. Clyburn is a “beautiful, lovely member of Congress” she told the Times.

Pelosi is facing a swell of Democratic opposition heading into the midterm elections in what may be her biggest internal test in her 15 years of leading the party, both in the minority and majority.

NBC News has a tally of at least 55 House candidates, including 10 incumbents, who oppose her retaking the Speakership next year.

In light of this Democratic divide and Republican assaults on Pelosi ahead of the midterm elections, Clyburn is seen as offering a viable alternative for a party that claims the mantle of diversity. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) have already expressed support for a speakership bid. 

“Among a lot of us, Jim ClyburnJames (Jim) Enos ClyburnPelosi dismisses question about support for Speakership as ‘least important’ reporter could ask Pelosi: My following in this country is unsurpassed by anybody House Dem: Party's aging leaders is 'a problem' MORE is beloved. Not loved, beloved,” CBC member Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonTrump's Puerto Rico tweets spark backlash Washington to finally focus on threat to supply-chain risk management Mississippi to test limits of Medicaid work requirements MORE (D-Miss.) told McClatchy. “He’s comfortable with conservative members of the (Democratic) caucus. He’s comfortable with liberals and the progressive wing. And so whatever he decides, a number of people want to be on his team.”

While CBC membership makes up 45 of the 193 Democrats in the House of Representatives, that number could grow after the midterm elections, which would aid Clyburn should he seek the speakership.

“You cannot get to 218 (votes) to be Speaker without the Black Caucus,” CBC Chairman Rep Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondState Department: Allegations of racism 'disgusting and false' Congressional Black Caucus says Kavanaugh would weaken Voting Rights Act protections Democrats move to limit role of superdelegates in presidential nominations MORE (D-La.) told McClatchy. “If we hold, you cannot get the speakership without us. I’m just doing math right now, you can’t get there without the Black Caucus.”

Should Pelosi fail to get the votes and Clyburn throw his hat into the ring, he may face a challenge from the second highest ranking Democrat in the House, Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDemocrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her Dems' confidence swells with midterms fast approaching Trump's Puerto Rico tweets spark backlash MORE (D-Md.).

Hoyer, 79, and Clyburn, 78, are both considered elder statesmen in their party and are well-liked, meaning a leadership race could prove particularly divisive at a time when Democrats are attempting to bridge an already expansive gap between progressives and moderates. 

“If we were all smart and strategic that race will never occur,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a former CBC chairman and a senior member of Hoyer’s whip team, said on Capitol Hill in July, according to McClatchy.