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Marcia Fudge under spotlight as Pelosi Speaker fight heats up

Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgeOn The Money: Treasury announces efforts to help people get stimulus payments | Senate panel unanimously advances Yellen nomination for Treasury | Judge sets ground rules for release of Trump taxes Biden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear Record number of women to serve in Biden Cabinet MORE is in a serious bind as she faces mounting pressure to challenge Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDivide and conquer or unite and prosper Trump impeachment article being sent to Senate Monday Roe is not enough: Why Black women want an end to the Hyde Amendment MORE (D-Calif.) for the Speaker’s gavel — a move that could divide the Ohio Democrat's allegiances between the insurgency she supports and the Congressional Black Caucus she once led.

A group of anti-Pelosi insurgents has been ramping up efforts to recruit Fudge, a former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), amid criticism that the majority-male cohort is trying to oust the top-ranking female Democrat in the “Year of the Woman.”

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Pelosi allies have been deriding the rebels as “five white guys,” a play on comments Pelosi made earlier this year referring to the five male leaders involved in immigration reform talks.

Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanJill Biden visits Capitol to thank National Guard Capitol officer claims MAGA hat was part of ruse to rescue colleagues: report Tim Ryan, Rosa DeLauro giving free coffee and donuts to National Guard stationed at Capitol MORE (D-Ohio), a Pelosi detractor, has urged Fudge to mount a serious challenge. She appeared receptive to the idea but has not yet made a decision.

"I'm still thinking about it," Fudge, a fellow Pelosi critic, told CNN on Thursday night as she stood outside her Capitol office. She added that she has been "overwhelmed" by the number of members encouraging her to run.

But weighing heavily on Fudge’s mind is the fact that a bid for the Speakership could hurt the accession of Rep. Jim ClyburnJames (Jim) Enos ClyburnClyburn: Bush told me I'm 'savior' for Biden endorsement LIVE INAUGURATION COVERAGE: Biden signs executive orders; press secretary holds first briefing Clyburn confident House will pass Biden agenda despite narrow majority MORE (D-S.C.), the highest-ranking black lawmaker in the caucus, who is vying for the majority whip post.

Clyburn said Thursday that he, Pelosi and Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerBudowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Congressional leaders present Biden, Harris with flags flown during inauguration LIVE INAUGURATION COVERAGE: Biden signs executive orders; press secretary holds first briefing MORE (D-Md.), the minority whip, are part of a cohesive team. If Pelosi falls, Clyburn suggested, he and Hoyer would fall with her.

“She would be a threat to me as well. ... Because I really believe we have put together a team,” Clyburn said. “I’m supporting that team. And that team is Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn.”

Clyburn emphasized, however, that he is not discouraging Fudge from entering the race.

“I would never tell anybody not to run — not even my own children,” he said.

He also predicted that Pelosi would prevail.

“I don’t know if she’s got [the votes] or not,” he said, “but I think she’ll have them.”

Other prominent members of the CBC weighed in on Thursday, with many confident that Pelosi will win.

“I think she’s got the numbers already,” said Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersCapitol Police report warned that Congress could be targeted three days before riot Democrats point fingers on whether Capitol rioters had inside help Lawmakers warned police of possible attack ahead of siege MORE (D-Calif.).

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a former chairman of the CBC, said he’s backing Pelosi and suggested the insurgents are boosting the Republican brand just as Democrats are set to take the majority in the House.

Fudge largely avoided the media spotlight on Thursday. She was not seen heading in or out of a closed-door Democratic caucus meeting where throngs of reporters and camera crews were waiting outside.

Pelosi, meanwhile, has been working aggressively to shore up support from the CBC, meeting with the powerful faction Wednesday morning at the Democratic National Committee headquarters.

On Thursday, Pelosi’s office blasted out statements touting endorsements from CBC members such as Reps. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and Donald McEachinAston (Donale) Donald McEachinLobbying world Lawmakers share New Year's messages: 'Cheers to brighter days ahead' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: McEachin signals interest in Biden administration environment role | Haaland, eyed for Interior, stresses need for Native American representation | Haaland backers ask Udall to step aside in bid for Interior post MORE (D-Va.). Later in the day, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who has been floated by the insurgents as another good candidate to challenge Pelosi, tweeted a brief statement of support.

And Pelosi got a huge boost late Thursday evening when Rep. John LewisJohn LewisThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' Harris now 'the most influential woman' in American politics Georgia Democrat introduces bill to bar Trump from Capitol after term ends MORE (D-Ga.), an icon of the civil rights era, endorsed the longtime leader, as well.

"No one works harder than she does," Lewis wrote in a letter to fellow Democrats.

CBC Chairman Cedric RichmondCedric RichmondAn attack on America that's divided Congress — and a nation Pelosi to seat Iowa Republican as Democratic challenger contests election results Louisiana Rep.-elect Luke Letlow dies of COVID-19 MORE (D-La.), however, predicted that many caucus members would flip their support from Pelosi to Fudge if she decided to run.

“I think most of them — many of them — would change their mind,” Richmond told reporters.

Richmond, who has said Fudge is like a sister to him, seemed to include himself in that equation.

“Let me be clear about this: If Marcia Fudge did anything, except run against Jim Clyburn, then I’d probably be for her,” Richmond said.

“I’m not anti-Pelosi, but whatever Marcia does, I’m very pro-Marcia,” he added. “But I have not seen that Marcia is running for Speaker. I think that this is something others are pushing.”

It's unclear just how serious Fudge is about a potential bid. She did not specify whether she is thinking about outright challenging Pelosi or if she would declare her candidacy only if Pelosi stumbles.

The anti-Pelosi insurgency has so far struggled to put up a viable candidate, which they attributed to the fact that members are too scared to openly challenge Pelosi, a party heavyweight. Yet the Pelosi critics say the floodgates will open if they can demonstrate enough opposition to block her on the House floor in early January, when the matter comes to a vote.

“I’m glad to see that Marcia is thinking about it,” said Rep. Kathleen RiceKathleen Maura RiceTensions running high after gun incident near House floor Trust between lawmakers reaches all-time low after Capitol riots Trump's Georgia call triggers debate on criminal penalties MORE (D-N.Y.), a prominent Pelosi detractor. “And I think once we show that the leader can’t get to 218 [votes], you’re going to see other people throw their hat in the ring, too.”

For Fudge, her potential bid is further complicated by the fact it could hurt Clyburn’s own aspirations. Such a move could also rankle some CBC members who don’t want her to leapfrog Clyburn.

Richmond acknowledged the difficult decision facing Fudge, but told reporters not to count her out.

“Knowing Marcia, she wouldn’t do anything to hurt Jim,” he said. 

But, he added, “I wouldn’t put anything past Marcia Fudge.”

Richmond said he plans to talk with Fudge about her plans on Thursday night, noting the pair gets dinner every night with Clyburn and Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonNew coalition aims to combat growing wave of ransomware attacks Acting DHS chief Chad Wolf stepping down Security boosted for lawmakers' travel around inauguration: report MORE (D-Miss.).

Officially throwing her name into the ring could also open up Fudge to attacks. In recent days, she has faced renewed criticism for her decision not to co-sponsor the Equality Act, which would provide protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in the Civil Rights Act.

Richmond has vehemently defended Fudge, saying she is a strong supporter of LGBTQ rights. He called the attacks on her a “hit.”

“It was inaccurate. It was a discharge petition — we all know that discharge petitions are strictly just messaging,” Richmond said. “So if that’s the way we’re going to play in this caucus, then first of all it’s not a caucus I want to be a part of."

“I don’t know who was playing that way — I probably have some suspicions,” he added. “I’ll figure it out.”