Cedric Richmond’s next move: ‘Sky’s the limit’ if Biden wins
Shortly after Donald Trump upset Hillary Clinton in 2016, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) called then-Vice President Joe Biden and told him he needed to run for president in 2020.
“I knew he was going to run even if he didn’t know if he was going to run,” Richmond recalled in an interview with The Hill last year.
Now, with Biden extending his lead over Trump in the polls, Democratic colleagues and insiders are buzzing that Richmond could soon be leaving Capitol Hill to join a future Biden administration in the White House or as a Cabinet member.
“The sky’s the limit for him,” said Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.), who first met Richmond more than a decade ago when they were both state legislators. “It depends on what Cedric wants to do, but wherever Cedric’s gonna be, he’s going to rise to the top. He’s a rock star.”
Last year, Biden named Richmond, a former Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) chairman from New Orleans, a national co-chairman of his presidential campaign. It proved to be a smart pick, as Richmond shored up support for Biden from African American lawmakers and voters in the South who would help propel him to the Democratic nomination.
More recently, Biden appointed Richmond as one of the co-chairs of his transition team, an exclusive group of Biden insiders responsible for helping the former vice president fill out his Cabinet and administration should he win on Nov. 3.
Lawmakers and Biden insiders say there are several top jobs that Richmond could step into on day one of a new Democratic administration.
He could follow in the footsteps of Rahm Emanuel, the Democratic congressman who became former President Obama’s first White House chief of staff. Or he could be tapped as Commerce or Labor secretary. He also may be interested in serving in a more behind-the scenes role as a senior adviser to the president in the mold of Valerie Jarrett or Patrick Gaspard, who both had tremendous access to Obama in the West Wing.
One job that might be appealing to Richmond is U.S. trade representative, sources said, a Cabinet-level position that has greater proximity to the president since it falls under the Executive Office of the President. It’s also a job that has incredible influence over trade and economic policy, which would be critical to the port communities of his native Louisiana.
“I think he’d have his choice,” said one longtime Biden aide. “Since he was on board so early, he will get what he wants.”
For now, Richmond, 47, isn’t saying anything publicly or even privately about his next move. His close friends in Congress say he hasn’t hinted that he’s angling for a job in a future Biden administration. And Richmond, who declined to be interviewed for this story, has only said he’s focused this fall on winning reelection to the 2nd Congressional District of Louisiana and ensuring that Biden ousts Trump from the White House.
One ally said Richmond may want to stay in the House, where he would have Biden on speed dial. That relationship could help Richmond shape and influence legislation, as well as echo Biden’s message to reporters on Capitol Hill.
“Either way, he wins,” said one House Democrat. “If he’s in the administration, he can kill it. If he’s on Capitol Hill, he can kill it” because he will have a direct line to Biden.
Just last month, Richmond was appointed to a coveted seat on the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee that became vacant after the death of the beloved civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.); CBC members say they fought hard to get Richmond that plum post.
House lawmakers describe Richmond, an attorney and five-term lawmaker, as a talented political strategist who is tough but even-tempered and pragmatic, on top of being loyal to friends and allies. He has the pulse of his Democratic colleagues, constantly checking in with them and listening to their ideas.
“If I get intense about something, he takes me right back to reality,” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), a member of the leadership team, said of Richmond. “I think he’s a very pragmatic person who doesn’t get excited and takes it all in and puts forth a strategy. But if he’s got to intervene, he knows when to intervene.”
Richmond is also in tune with voters in the South, particularly Black voters.
All of those attributes helped steady the Biden campaign and calm jittery establishment Democrats during a tumultuous stretch in February when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the progressive hero, surged ahead of Biden in the polls and the delegate count.
Throughout the primary, Richmond worked the phones and the House floor. He set up calls between Biden and his colleagues, racking up lawmaker endorsements for Biden. The Louisiana Democrat would also tell colleagues, reporters, anyone who would listen: Just wait until South Carolina, that’s when everything will change for Biden.
Richmond proved to be right about South Carolina. Despite getting trounced by Sanders in New Hampshire and Nevada, Biden roared back with a lopsided victory in the Palmetto State — bolstered by a game-changing endorsement three days before the election from House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), a former Black Caucus chairman and a longtime mentor to Richmond.
Two Biden rivals, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), dropped out and quickly threw their support behind the former vice president, who racked up big wins on Super Tuesday, particularly in southern states like Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina and Texas.
Clyburn’s timely endorsement had Richmond’s fingerprints all over it.
“Joe Biden doesn’t win South Carolina without Richmond and Clyburn,” one Biden insider told The Hill.
“He knows the South and the voters in the South,” added a CBC colleague, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), of Richmond.
It was in the South where Richmond grew up and later would play baseball for Morehouse College in Atlanta. The South was also where Richmond forged one of the most unlikely friendships in politics today. He and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) first met while serving in the Louisiana statehouse two decades ago. The two men would fight about policy by day and “in the evening we would go play basketball and we would have drinks together,” Richmond told The Advocate in Baton Rouge.
Scalise won a seat in Congress in 2008, and Richmond followed him to Washington two years later. Their friendship — and a friendly rivalry — grew each year when they faced off at the annual charity Congressional Baseball Game, where Richmond has been the dominating starting pitcher for the Democrats.
But that bipartisan friendship was tested in 2014 after reports that Scalise had addressed a white supremacist as a state lawmaker 12 years earlier. Scalise, then the House majority whip, faced calls to resign from Congress, but Richmond rushed to his defense, not only saying his close friend didn’t have “a racist bone in his body,” but also advising Scalise on how to repair his relationship with the Black community.
Fellow CBC members and other Democrats were furious at Richmond for saving Scalise’s political career; Richmond was unfazed. And in 2017, the Democrat again was there for him, rushing to the hospital after the GOP whip was nearly killed by a deranged gunman during a baseball practice.
Scalise, now the No. 2 GOP leader, hasn’t forgotten those gestures, even as he’s working to reelect Trump.
“Cedric is a dear friend who is a smart, hard-working, rising star in the House,” Scalise told The Hill. “We have been able to maintain a strong friendship despite our political differences, and still work together on issues important to Louisiana and our nation.”
Amie Parnes contributed.