Democrats already jockeying for House leadership posts

Democrats already jockeying for House leadership posts
© Greg Nash

Ambitious House Democrats have already begun jockeying behind the scenes for leadership spots, anticipating that Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Ginsburg successor must uphold commitment to 'equality, opportunity and justice for all' Bipartisan praise pours in after Ginsburg's death Pelosi orders Capitol flags at half-staff to honor Ginsburg MORE (D-Calif.), Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse Democrats postpone vote on marijuana decriminalization bill Democrats scramble on COVID-19 relief amid division, Trump surprise The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep MORE (D-Md.) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) could all be gone after this Congress or the next.

The extent of the leadership shake-up almost certainly depends on what happens in the 2020 presidential election, but there are signs that some of the second-tier leaders are quietly making moves to climb the ladder, with an eye on the Speakership.

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These lawmakers are reaching out to members of the minority caucuses, scouring the cable news circuit and more generally searching for ways to build their brands heading into the post-Pelosi world — whenever it arrives.

“It’s smart. That’s the way you generate support, to help the members who need it,” observed House Budget Committee Chairman John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthGOP, White House struggle to unite behind COVID-19 relief House seeks ways to honor John Lewis Karen Bass's star rises after leading police reform push MORE (D-Ky.).

Pelosi, who has led House Democrats since 2003, seized the Speaker’s gavel again this year after suppressing a small but threatening internal revolt by vowing to cap her tenure and help groom the next generation of leaders.

Many observers view Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesPelosi: House will stay in session until agreement is reached on coronavirus relief Races heat up for House leadership posts Postmaster general earned millions from company with ties to Postal Service: report MORE (N.Y.), the 48-year-old chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, as Pelosi’s heir apparent. His path was cleared by last year’s stunning primary defeat of former Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) and the imminent exodus of Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), the No. 4 House Democrat who’s running for the Senate in 2020.

But there are plenty of other up-and-coming lawmakers with ambitions of their own. Rep. Katherine ClarkKatherine Marlea ClarkRep. Robin Kelly enters race for Democratic caucus vice chair Clark rolls out endorsements in assistant Speaker race Races heat up for House leadership posts MORE (D-Mass.), a former prosecutor who sits right below Jeffries in the leadership ladder, gained prominence for her role in the Democrats’ 2016 takeover of the House floor to protest congressional inaction on gun violence. Clark has emerged as a formidable fundraiser, and she’s been meeting with minority and female lawmakers to lend them more voice within the caucus.

Some legislators see leaders like Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineClark rolls out endorsements in assistant Speaker race Races heat up for House leadership posts The folly of Cicilline's 'Glass-Steagall for Tech' MORE (R.I.), who heads up House Democrats’ messaging operation, and Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Pamila Jayapal (D-Wash.) as differentiating themselves from the pack by bucking Pelosi and pushing for impeachment proceedings against President TrumpDonald John TrumpObama calls on Senate not to fill Ginsburg's vacancy until after election Planned Parenthood: 'The fate of our rights' depends on Ginsburg replacement Progressive group to spend M in ad campaign on Supreme Court vacancy MORE.

In an interview, Rep. Dan KildeeDaniel (Dan) Timothy KildeeLawmakers fear voter backlash over failure to reach COVID-19 relief deal Democrats set to hold out for big police reform More than 100 Democrats press Trump to extend jobless benefits MORE (D-Mich.) made clear he also sees a future leadership bid in the cards — when the opportunity arrives.

“I think sooner or later the time will come; there will be some opportunity. Obviously, I’m a supporter of Ms. Pelosi. I think she’s doing a great job. But over time things will change. It depends on what happens in 2020,” Kildee told The Hill on Tuesday.

Rising stars like Clark and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairwoman Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden asks if public can trust vaccine from Trump ahead of Election Day | Oklahoma health officials raised red flags before Trump rally DCCC dropping million on voter education program Clark rolls out endorsements in assistant Speaker race MORE (Ill.) have been paying special attention to the Black, Hispanic and Asian Pacific American caucuses — collectively known as the Tri-Caucus — which will wield influence in future leadership races as the broader Democratic Caucus continues to grow more diverse.

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Both Clark and Bustos attended last month’s annual Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies gala, a large gathering of Asian American lawmakers and staffers in Washington.

And some of these lawmakers will attend the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) PAC retreats in New York and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore later this summer. Clark will attend both gatherings for the first time.

Clark also has been holding one-on-one meetings with black, Hispanic and Asian lawmakers. Sources said Clark, 55, has been asking how she can better represent them and their priorities at the leadership table. During some of the meetings, Clark has been asked by colleagues about her future leadership plans.

“She spends an awful lot of time meeting with members. If someone would characterize it as focused time on the Tri-Caucus and particularly women members, that would be accurate,” said a Democratic source close to Clark.

“She is concentrating on doing the work, but she thinks she has a lot to offer and really enjoys being part of leadership and wants to continue doing it.”

But some leaders’ aggressive outreach to the minority caucuses is rubbing some Democrats the wrong way.

“Democrats are ready for fresh leadership in Congress, and we’re lucky enough to have many good choices there. But timing matters: There are members who are making the selfish mistake of setting up meetings with caucuses and jockeying for those roles now, which is narrow-minded and short-sighted,” said a senior Democratic source on Capitol Hill.

“It’s not at all appropriate to be doing that in the midst of the border crisis and as we’re on the brink of war in the Middle East. It’s shameful.”

Added House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.): “It’s a little bit premature to be jockeying for positions that may not even be real in terms of any openings. We need to focus on making sure that this Congress gets as much done as possible. And the other stuff will take care of itself.”

Bustos, the head of the Democrats’ campaign arm, said her outreach is part of her official role and is focused on “relationships and listening to people.”

“The CBC and CHC are very important to what we accomplish and it’s nothing more than that,” Bustos told The Hill on Tuesday. “No ulterior motives.”

There are signs that two of the House Democrats’ Big Three — Pelosi, 79, and Clyburn, 78 — are eyeing the exits. Hoyer, who just turned 80, has given no similar indication.

Last fall, Clyburn suggested that he could become Speaker if Pelosi failed to secure the required 218 votes. But in a recent interview with The Washington Post, he said he is now “beyond that” and that the first black Speaker of the House would come from the “next generation,” rattling off the names of Jeffries, Rep. Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondRep. Cedric Richmond set to join House Ways and Means Committee Biden campaign ratchets up courting of Black voters, specifically Black men Buttigieg, former officials added to Biden's transition team MORE (D-La.) and Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeThis week: House returns for pre-election sprint House to tackle funding, marijuana in September Honoring John Lewis's voting rights legacy MORE (D-Ohio).

Democrats said that they see Pelosi possibly staying on for another term if Democrats can hold the House and take back the White House. But if Trump wins a second term, many Democrats say they will push for a major leadership shake-up. Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn have occupied those top three positions at least since 2006.

“I think [Pelosi’s] gone at that point; I think a lot of people are gone at that point,” said one senior Democratic lawmaker.

A second lawmaker agreed.

“I don’t think they want to leave when there’s going to be a potential Democrat as president. I think Pelosi wants to go out on top with a Democratic president so she can pass whatever legacy legislation she wants to pass,” the second lawmaker said, descending the steps of the Capitol.

“If we lose the White House, they’ll all be forced out. And they will want to go. They won’t want to stick around here.”

Pelosi has vowed to retire at the end of this Congress or the next.