House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s bid for speaker has one potential problem if Democrats take back the House: a Congressional Black Caucus that wants one of their own to be speaker — or at the very least, to get the No. 2 position.
For months, Rep. Jim Clyburn, the assistant minority leader and No. 3 House Democrat, has mulled running for House Speaker or House Majority Leader if Democrats can take back the House.
The 78-year-old South Carolinian has talked openly about doing what others are hesitant to — offering his name up for speaker, but only if Pelosi fails to get the required 218 votes. Pelosi has a lot of confidence she’ll be able to win the gavel, but there are more than 40 Democrats running who have indicated they will not support her for speaker.
Clyburn first said he would think about jumping in the speaker’s race this summer in an interview with New York Times’ Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin.
“If the opportunity is there I would absolutely do it,” Clyburn told Burns and Martin.
But there appears to be a split within the Congressional Black Caucus, which typically has a reputation as a unified bloc. Some are questioning whether Clyburn has the chops to run against Pelosi, with grumbles from some that another, younger member should take up the mantle.
Pelosi can typically count on the unified support of the CBC. But if one of their own decides to challenge her, or disagrees with Pelosi on who should hold the No. 2 spot, that support could fracture.
Clyburn has the same problem Pelosi and the rest of Democratic leadership does: They have all essentially been in the same positions for years and don’t represent the new faces some in the House are clamoring for. This all coincides in a year when the Democratic caucus could be younger and more diverse than ever.
Clyburn is serious — but some wonder if he’s serious enough
There have been signs of unrest in the Congressional Black Caucus for months. The powerful caucus currently makes up almost a quarter of House Democrats, but Clyburn is their only representative in the top echelon of Democratic leadership.
The 48-member CBC is powerful (almost all are Democrats), and they badly want more representation at the top of the House. The CBC has been an important ally of Pelosi in the past, but they also want a black speaker.
“We want people to see that the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives is, with some intentionality, very inclusive,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), told Politico’s Heather Caygle and John Bresnahan. “It’s a powerful statement for the nation and maybe even for the world.”
There’s new chatter that Clyburn could also be aiming for House majority leader, the No. 2 spot in House leadership. Current Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the No. 2 Democrat in the House, has talked openly about his intention to run for majority leader.
Hoyer is trying to shore up support for majority leader by campaigning and fundraising aggressively ahead of the November 6 — he’s traveled to more than 120 congressional districts in 25 states to stump for candidates so far this year. Many of these districts are more conservative ones where Pelosi isn’t as welcome, and he’s raised more than $10 million for candidates so far this cycle. Hoyer and Clyburn both say they won’t challenge Pelosi directly for speaker, but they have their eyes on the spot if she can’t get the votes.
Members of the CBC want to see a member of their caucus at the No. 1 or 2 spot — and since Clyburn is already the third-ranking House Democrat, he is best positioned to take on Pelosi or Hoyer. Even though Clyburn is fundraising and traveling to boost other 2018 candidates, there seem to be some concerns even within the CBC that the South Carolina congressman is up to the task of showing whether he can lead.
Clyburn’s allies have been pushing him to talk himself up to the rest of the caucus and 2018 Democratic candidates who could be helping choose new leaders after the midterms, according to a recent report from McClatchy’s Emma Dumain. They want him to talk up his travel schedule, fundraising, and policy plans to reduce poverty in America.
“The advice I gave him is, ‘demonstrate your ability to lead,’” Rep. Bennie Johnson (D-MS) told Dumain.
The fact that Clyburn’s allies are telling him he needs to step up could be a sign of trouble for him. After all, he tried to challenge Hoyer before. In 2010, Hoyer and Clyburn ran against each other for the minority whip position, with Hoyer coming out on top. Now neither Pelosi nor Hoyer’s allies seem worried about a serious challenge from Clyburn. Both have solid bases of support within the caucus.
Pelosi, Hoyer, and Clyburn are all positioning themselves as “transitional leaders”
The longtime leadership trio is staring down an increasingly restless Democratic caucus itching for new blood.
So it makes sense that as all three position themselves to be leading House Democrats again, they are framing it as transitional leadership — a bridge to get Democrats to 2020 and then stepping aside for younger members. Clyburn and Hoyer have been framing their respective bids this way for months, and Pelosi recently suggested she would do the same.
“I see myself as a transitional figure,” Pelosi said in a recent interview with Mark Barabak of the Los Angeles Times. “I have things to do. Books to write, places to go, grandchildren, first and foremost, to love.”
Pelosi has been clear she intends to run for speaker if Democrats win in her interview with Barabak, and it’s worth noting she did not give herself an end date in the interview. But floating the idea that it’s a short-term thing may make Pelosi’s speakership bid more palatable to House Democrats who are skeptical about her remaining at the top. Clyburn and Hoyer are watching the vote totals for Pelosi’s speakership race closely — both could jump in if she can’t get to 218.
Pelosi — who is flush with cash for Democrats after a record 2018 fundraising haul — remains bullish about her prospects: She and her team believe some Democrats who have called for new leadership haven’t been explicit and have left enough wiggle room to change their minds and vote for her.
Pelosi’s hints that she doesn’t plan to stay House speaker for long may help persuade key holdouts and get her to the 218 number she needs. If she doesn’t, Clyburn and Hoyer will be waiting in the wings.