Marcia Fudge under spotlight as Pelosi Speaker fight heats up

Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeFederal employees turn their backs on Agriculture secretary after relocation plans announced Federal employees turn their backs on Agriculture secretary after relocation plans announced Lawmakers clash after Dem reads letter on House floor calling Trump supporters 'racist,' 'dumb' MORE is in a serious bind as she faces mounting pressure to challenge Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump says Democrats are handing out subpoenas 'like they're cookies' Trump says Democrats are handing out subpoenas 'like they're cookies' Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record 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) John RyanAnthony Bourdain's alma mater creates scholarship in his honor one year after death Anthony Bourdain's alma mater creates scholarship in his honor one year after death 2020 Democrats share their families' immigration histories 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 Clyburn22 presidential candidates to attend Clyburn's South Carolina fish fry Impeachment will reelect Trump Impeachment will reelect Trump 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 HoyerHouse Democrats close to finalizing border aid bill House Democrats close to finalizing border aid bill Hoyer expects reparations bill to get a floor vote 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 WatersFacebook's new cryptocurrency raises red flags for critics Facebook's new cryptocurrency raises red flags for critics Facebook's crypto experiment will languish on Capitol Hill 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 McEachinVirginia lawmakers respond to shooting: 'My heart breaks for ... our entire commonwealth' Overnight Energy: Trump moves forward with rule on California drilling | House panel advances bill that resumes participation in Paris climate fund | Perry pressed on 'environmental justice' | 2020 Dem proposes climate corps Perry, asked about environmental justice, talks about electricity prices 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 LewisGeorgia commissioner seeking M in damages after being punished for calling John Lewis a 'racist pig' Georgia commissioner seeking M in damages after being punished for calling John Lewis a 'racist pig' First major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides 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 Levon RichmondHouse hearing marks historic moment for slavery reparations debate House hearing marks historic moment for slavery reparations debate Lawmakers demand answers on Border Patrol data breach 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 RiceDemocrat offers measure to prevent lawmakers from sleeping in their offices Democrat offers measure to prevent lawmakers from sleeping in their offices Hillicon Valley: Pelosi blasts Facebook for not taking down doctored video | Democrats push election security after Mueller warning | Critics dismiss FCC report on broadband access | Uber to ban passengers with low ratings 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 ThompsonDemocrats make U-turn on calling border a 'manufactured crisis' Democrats make U-turn on calling border a 'manufactured crisis' Hillicon Valley: Facebook unveils new cryptocurrency | Waters wants company to halt plans | Democrats look to force votes on election security | Advertisers partner with tech giants on 'digital safety' | House GOP unveils cyber agenda 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.”