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Democrats to determine leaders after disappointing election

Democrats to determine leaders after disappointing election
© Bonnie Cash

House Democrats on Wednesday will launch the delicate affair of choosing their leadership team in the next Congress, a routine exercise that’s taken on outsize significance following the party's battering at the polls two weeks ago. 

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiLawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food Andrew Yang condemns attacks against Asian Americans Congress in lockdown: Will we just 'get used to it'? MORE (D-Calif.) and her top lieutenants — Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse Democrats introduce bill providing citizenship to Dreamers On The Money: Democrats deals to bolster support for relief bill | Biden tries to keep Democrats together | Retailers fear a return of the mask wars Here's who Biden is now considering for budget chief MORE (D-Md.) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) — are all running uncontested, setting the stage for the same power lineup to return for another term after 14 years together at the helm.

That grip on authority comes even despite some rank-and-file lobbying for a leadership facelift following a dismal election cycle when Democrats were forecasting large gains in the lower chamber, only to see their majority shrink instead.

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The fifth-ranking House Democrat, Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesJustice Dept. pledges to address hate crimes against Asian Americans Xi'an Famous Foods CEO warns of anti-Asian hate crimes in NYC Democrats snipe on policy, GOP brawls over Trump MORE (D-N.Y.), is also facing no challenger, guaranteeing a second term in that post for the four-term Brooklyn native. A quartet of Democrats are running uncontested to become the four equal co-chairs of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC): Reps. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellLawmakers offer gun control bill to end 'boyfriend loophole' Michigan Democrat Dingell on violent rhetoric: 'I've had men in front of my house with assault weapons' Dingell 'very concerned' about lowering threshold for stimulus MORE (D-Mich.), Ted LieuTed W. LieuPelosi, lawmakers denounce violence against Asian Americans Riot probe to likely focus on McCarthy-Trump call Progressives urge Biden pick for attorney general to prosecute Trump MORE (D-Calif.), Matt CartwrightMatthew (Matt) Alton CartwrightSix ways to visualize a divided America Will Biden continue NASA's Artemis program to return to the moon? House Democrats pick Aguilar as No. 6 leader in next Congress MORE (D-Pa.) and Joe NeguseJoseph (Joe) NeguseBipartisan bill would ban lawmakers from buying, selling stocks House passes major public lands package OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Five things to know about Texas's strained electric grid | Biden honeymoon with green groups faces tests | Electric vehicles are poised to aid Biden in climate fight MORE (D-Colo.).

Much less certain are a series of contests for a number of mid-ranking leadership positions — races that carry an unusual weight this year, since Pelosi has vowed to relinquish the gavel after the coming term. Her exodus is certain to spark a mad scramble to fill the void at the very top, and those just below would be best positioned to do so. 

With that in mind, the races for the lower-tiered leadership posts have taken on a special urgency this week, when Democrats will vote virtually as a public health precaution amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Assistant Speaker 

Pelosi created the assistant Speaker position two years ago to reward the campaign chief, Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), for helping to flip the House to Democratic control. But the new post is now here to stay.

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Two ambitious rising stars in the party — Reps. Katherine ClarkKatherine Marlea ClarkPelosi says House will move immediately on COVID-19 relief Biden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear Sanders defends push to impeach Trump: Insurrection won't be tolerated MORE (D-Mass.) and David CicillineDavid CicillineHouse passes sweeping protections for LGBTQ people The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - J&J A-OK, Tanden in Trouble Six ways to visualize a divided America MORE (D-R.I.) — are vying to move up the leadership ladder and succeed Luján, who has proven that the assistant Speaker post can lead to higher office. Luján is heading to the Senate next year.

Clark, 57, the current Democratic Caucus vice chair, is a strong fundraiser who has been cultivating relationships with two critical voting blocs in the increasingly diverse caucus: women and minorities.

Her endorsements include former Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Chair Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.); Rep. Grace MengGrace MengJustice Dept. pledges to address hate crimes against Asian Americans Tanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief Pelosi, lawmakers denounce violence against Asian Americans MORE (D-N.Y.), a top Democratic National Committee official; Rep. Sylvia GarciaSylvia GarciaBiden pledges support for Texas amid recovery from winter storm Biden turns focus to winter storm with Texas trip K Street navigates virtual inauguration week MORE (D-Texas), who was an impeachment manager; and Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanDemocrats cut deals to bolster support for relief bill Progressives grumble but won't sink relief bill over fewer stimulus checks Democrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' MORE (D-Wis.), who is a co-chair of both the Progressive Caucus and Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.

In touting Pocan’s support, Clark is taking direct aim at Cicilline, who as head of the DPCC is the only openly gay member on Pelosi’s leadership team. However, Cicilline, 59, won the endorsement of both the Human Rights Campaign and the LGBT Caucus, which said the former Providence mayor “understands personally the damage that Donald Trump has done — especially to young LGBTQ Americans — through his words and deeds.”   

Some Democrats who aren’t taking sides in the race said it appeared Clark had a better whip operation and a strong case that another woman should serve at the top of the leadership team alongside Pelosi.

“The caucus is virtually half women so it’s tougher to say, ‘Nancy Pelosi, man, man, man, plus male head of the DCCC, and a male head of the caucus,” said one neutral House Democrat.

“There will be a lot of people who will want to make sure we have women at the top.”

Vice chair

With Rep. Deb HaalandDeb HaalandThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Virus relief bill headed for weekend vote The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Increased security on Capitol Hill amid QAnon's March 4 date Murkowski votes with Senate panel to advance Haaland nomination MORE (D-N.M.) dropping out so she can be considered for Interior secretary, the race for Democratic Caucus vice chair now pits Rep. Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarPartisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission AOC v. Pelosi: Round 12? Maloney to lead Democrats' campaign arm MORE (D-Calif.) against Rep. Robin KellyRobin Lynne KellyLawmakers emphasize prioritizing patients' needs in health care policy The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats ready mammoth relief bill for 10-day sprint Overnight Health Care: Biden officials announce funding to track virus variants | Senate Dems unveil public option proposal | White House: Teacher vaccinations not required for schools to reopen MORE (D-Ill.) 

For at least the past decade, there has been a Hispanic member of the Democratic leadership team: Then-Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Health Care: Biden slams Texas, Mississippi for lifting coronavirus restrictions: 'Neanderthal thinking' | Senate panel splits along party lines on Becerra |Over 200K sign up for ACA plans during Biden special enrollment period Senate panel splits along party lines on Becerra GOP targets Manchin, Sinema, Kelly on Becerra MORE (D-Calif.) had served as both caucus vice chair and chairman, while Luján was assistant Speaker and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) chair. Aguilar, 41, a past whip for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), is looking to continue that tradition.

Kelly, 64, has been making the case that the key members of Pelosi’s leadership team should include a woman of color. In the top seven jobs, there currently are no women of color, and Kelly could make history as the first Black woman elected to leadership.

Both candidates are touting a broad array of support in the caucus. Aguilar, a centrist, is being backed by both the CHC and the pro-business New Democrat Coalition, where Aguilar serves as whip. Among his supporters are two CBC members, Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), a close Biden ally, and A. Donald McEachinAston (Donale) Donald McEachinLawmakers commemorate one-year anniversary of Arbery's killing Lobbying world Lawmakers share New Year's messages: 'Cheers to brighter days ahead' MORE (D-Va.); and progressive Reps. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Jimmy GomezJimmy GomezSix ways to visualize a divided America Robert F. Kennedy Jr. anti-vaccine posts test tech crackdown pledge Democrats blast Facebook over anti-vaccine pages MORE (D-Calif.) Dan KildeeDaniel (Dan) Timothy KildeeAmazon manager sues company over racial discrimination, harassment allegations Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Biden pledges action on guns amid resistance MORE (D-Mich.) and Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchLawmakers debate role of prescription drugs and generics in health care costs The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by TikTok - Senate trial will have drama, but no surprise ending Overnight Health Care: New COVID-19 cases nationally drop below 100K for first time in 2021 | CDC warns states against lifting restrictions amid threat of virus variants | Health officials warn COVID-19 eradication unlikely MORE (D-Vt.).

This is Aguilar’s second attempt at the vice chair post; the former mayor of Redlands, Calif., was defeated two years ago by Clark and has been working to shore up support ever since.

Kelly, a former state lawmaker, has secured support from a majority of her fellow CBC members, who constitute a huge voting bloc in the caucus, a source close to Kelly said. She rolled out a list of endorsements Tuesday night, including a trio of leading progressives, Reps. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalProgressives won't oppose bill over limits on stimulus checks Democrats snipe on policy, GOP brawls over Trump House Democrats' ambitious agenda set to run into Senate blockade MORE (D-Wash.), Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaTexas power grid CEO fired in wake of massive storm outages How to create the next 10 great American tech clusters OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior reverses Trump policy that it says restricted science | Collins to back Haaland's Interior nomination | Republicans press Biden environment nominee on Obama-era policy MORE (D-Calif.) and Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarHouse approves George Floyd Justice in Policing Act House Democrats' ambitious agenda set to run into Senate blockade Omar introduces bill to sanction Saudi crown prince over Khashoggi killing MORE (D-Minn.); as well as a pair of leaders of the New Democrats, Rep. Ann KusterAnn McLane KusterThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Inauguration Day Democrats to determine leaders after disappointing election Pelosi seeks to put pressure on GOP in COVID-19 relief battle MORE (D-N.H.) and Terri SewellTerrycina (Terri) Andrea SewellCongressional Black Caucus unveils '100 Day Plan' Six ways to visualize a divided America Lobbying world MORE (D-Ala.).

DCCC chair

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Before the election, the big question was whether Rep. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosHouse Republican campaign arm rolls out target list for midterms Lobbying world Five centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote MORE (D-Ill.) would seek a second term leading the DCCC, the party’s campaign arm. But the devastating election results — nearly a dozen vulnerable Democratic incumbents have lost reelection so far — answered that question for her.

Bustos said she would step aside, creating a late unexpected opening in a critical leadership post. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), who ran for the campaign job two years ago, quickly jumped in the race, followed by Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), who abandoned his uphill bid for assistant Speaker.

The election for DCCC chair has been postponed until the week after Thanksgiving to give Maloney and Cárdenas more time to campaign and lock down votes.

Both men are prolific fundraisers. Like Bustos, Maloney, 54, has touted his ability to win reelection in a conservative-leaning district that backed President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump announces new tranche of endorsements DeSantis, Pence tied in 2024 Republican poll Lawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food MORE in 2016 — something he believes can help him defend vulnerable Democratic front-line members in what certainly will be an extremely difficult midterm election cycle for the party. He’s also talked about his unique background: He’s a married gay man who has an interracial family, and was the first openly LGBT person elected to Congress from New York.

Cárdenas, 57, has pointed to his six years leading BOLD PAC, the Hispanic Caucus’s super PAC that raised tens of millions of dollars for the party and helped boost the number of Hispanic members of Congress from 25 to 40. Colleagues see Cárdenas, a former Los Angeles City councilman and state lawmaker, as someone who could help Democrats make up lost ground with tens of thousands of Hispanic voters who backed Trump in places like the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas border and Miami-Dade County in south Florida.

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Remote voting

All of the leadership votes will be cast by way of a new app allowing lawmakers to record their ballots both remotely, amid the pandemic, and covertly, to ensure anonymity.

The caucus tested the novel app on Tuesday during a caucus call, when lawmakers were asked to choose the greatest musician in history from a list of four: Selena, Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen and U2’s Bono. Franklin, Jeffries reported, won with more than 50 percent of the vote. 

“So the caucus provided R-E-S-P-E-C-T to the great Queen of Soul,” Jeffries quipped afterwards.

Votes for several contested committee leader seats have also been pushed to the week of Nov. 30.