House Democrats pick Aguilar as No. 6 leader in next Congress

Bonnie Cash

For Rep. Pete Aguilar, the second time was the charm.

The California Democrat on Thursday won the race to become vice chair of the party’s caucus in the next Congress, defeating Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) for the No. 6 leadership slot in a 148 to 82 vote.

Aguilar, 41, will replace Rep. Katherine Clark, a Massachusetts Democrat who had defeated Aguilar for the vice chair spot in 2018. Clark vacated the position to become assistant Speaker next year, a seat she won on Wednesday in a race against Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.).

Aguilar’s victory ensures that the Democrats’ leadership team in the 117th Congress will feature at least one member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), which had been a significant part of his pitch heading into the vote. Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) had been the CHC’s prominent leadership figure for the last four years, both as head of the party’s campaign arm and most recently as assistant Speaker. He’s leaving the House next year after winning a seat in the Senate.

In the current Congress, Aguilar served as whip for the moderate New Democrat Coalition, a pro-business group that advocates for bipartisanship, and he also sits on the powerful Appropriations Committee.

As vice chair, he’ll face the challenge of bridging the divide between party’s centrist and liberal wings, which have been feuding after a lackluster performance for House Democrats at the polls this month.

In a statement issued after his victory, Aguilar acknowledged the importance of easing those tensions if Democrats are to be successful in pushing their ambitious legislative agenda.

“My top priority as a member of this leadership team will be to help unite our Caucus to meet the most pressing needs of the communities we represent, including providing much-needed resources to help the American people navigate the coronavirus crisis,” he said.

Kelly, 64, was vying to be the third member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) featured on the Democrats’ leadership team in the 117th Congress, after Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.) and Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) won reelection to those spots in voting conducted Wednesday. Both Clyburn and Jeffries ran unopposed.

In a year when Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) made history as the first Black woman elected vice president, Kelly had argued the importance of the Democrats’ House leadership team featuring a woman of color. Yet with two CBC members already on board — and no members of the CHC — that message became a tougher sell in a caucus that’s historically gone out of its way to promote ethnic diversity in its top ranks.

Democrats on Thursday also elected a quartet of members as the four equal co-chairs of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC): Reps. Debbie Dingell (Mich.), Ted Lieu (Calif.), Matt Cartwright (Pa.) and Joe Neguse (Colo.).

This represented a change in structure from the last Congress, when Cicilline headed the DPCC and had three co-chairs under him, Dingell, Lieu and Cartwright. Cicilline’s unsuccessful bid for assistant Speaker created an opening for Neguse, who has served as one of two freshman liaisons to Pelosi’s leadership team and ran unopposed for the fourth DPCC seat.

In 2018, Neguse made history as the first Eritrean American elected to Congress and the first African-American congressman from Colorado.

The race for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair has been pushed to the week after Thanksgiving to give the candidates, Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney (N.Y.) and Tony Cárdenas (Calif.), more time to campaign and lock down votes.

— Updated at 12:00 p.m.

Tags Ben Ray Lujan David Cicilline Debbie Dingell Hakeem Jeffries Joe Neguse Katherine Clark Matt Cartwright Pete Aguilar Robin Kelly Ted Lieu
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