House

Top Dems quickly announce leadership intentions

Anna Moneymaker

Top House Democrats moved quickly Tuesday night to announce their leadership intentions in the next Congress, wasting no time letting colleagues know they’re hoping to remain atop the party following their midterm victory.

While the announcements were not official — and none were a surprise — they sent an early signal to would-be challengers that the leading members of the party brass don’t intend to cede power next year.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who’s left it no mystery that she wants to retake the Speaker’s gavel she lost in 2010, said she thinks she made her case Tuesday night, fulfilling promises to return the Democrats to power as she’d done under a Republican president in 2006.

{mosads}It’s unclear how strong the headwinds will be as she seeks a return to the Speaker’s chair, however, as her detractors say roughly a dozen incumbent Democrats are ready to oppose her bid on the House floor and a number of incoming freshmen had promised to do the same during their campaigns.

But Pelosi, who was met by chants of “Speaker! Speaker!” during her victory speech Tuesday night, said she thinks she’ll prevail.

“I’m OK,” Pelosi told reporters as she left the Hyatt Regency in Washington, D.C., where Democrats had staged their election night watch party.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip, made it clear that he’s planning to stay at the No. 2 spot next year.

“I will certainly be running for majority leader,” he said just after several major networks had called the House for the Democrats.

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who’s currently No. 3 as the assistant leader, said he wants to keep that rank next year by stepping into the majority whip spot.

“I intend to write a letter to all my caucus members [Wednesday] informing them that I intend to be a candidate for whip,” he said leaving the Hyatt.

Pelosi may get a challenger, Clyburn added, but not one who would be a serious threat to her Speaker bid.

“I think you’ll see Nancy Pelosi remain No. 1, Steny No. 2, and hopefully I’ll remain No. 3,” he said.

Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), chairman of the Democrats’ campaign arm, can now make a good case to rise in the leadership ranks, having ushered the party to victory after eight years in the minority. Luján had been eying the majority whip spot, but now he’s all but certain to jump into the race for the assistant leader position.

“That’s one of the positions that my colleagues have been encouraging me to look at, and it’s definitely something I’ll consider,” Luján said, adding: “Just stay tuned.”

Two Democrats, Reps. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.), have already announced bids for the assistant leader position. But Luján said he’s not discouraged that they had an early jump in the race.

“That’s what elections are about,” he said, “but whoever comes out on top, we’ll all work together.”

Asked why he isn’t seeking the whip seat, Luján was terse.

“I support Mr. Clyburn. I think he’s an incredible whip,” Luján said. “I support him in his leadership.”

For the No. 5 spot, the caucus chairmanship, Reps. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) have already thrown their hats into the ring to replace outgoing Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), who lost his primary race in June. But many Democrats expect Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) to jump into the contest.

Jeffries, who leads the Democrats’ messaging arm along with Bustos and Cicilline, wants to climb in leadership, but he has been notably quiet about which spot he’ll seek. The only option he’s ruled out is a challenge to Pelosi.

Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, had raised eyebrows last week in sending a “Dear Colleague” letter insisting that a member of the group occupy the No. 1 or No. 2 leadership spots “if there is any change in our top leadership positions.”

A number of Democrats interpreted the message to include a situation in which the Democrats win the House and new leadership opportunities emerge with the opening of the Speaker’s seat. Clyburn put that notion to bed on Tuesday night, saying it outlined a scenario in which one of the top leaders stepped down.

“That’s exactly what the letter said: if there was a vacancy,” he said.

Amid a clamor for generational change, all three of the top leaders — Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn — have sought to tamp down the unrest by vowing to be a “bridge” or “transitional” leader to usher in the next, younger crop of party leaders. But the pitch hasn’t satisfied a number of newer members, who are scrambling for ways to topple the three leaders, even despite Tuesday’s election results.

Asked to clarify what he means by “transitional,” Clyburn was ambiguous.

“It means transitional,” he said, “and I think all of us are working on that.”

Tags Barbara Lee Cedric Richmond Cheri Bustos David Cicilline Hakeem Jeffries Linda Sanchez Nancy Pelosi Steny Hoyer

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