Marcia Fudge, the Ohio Democrat who was considering challenging Nancy Pelosi, will not pursue a bid for House speaker, she announced Tuesday night.
Fudge, a 66-year-old, six-term Congress member from the Cleveland region, had been mulling over whether to challenge Pelosi for the speaker’s race, after a vocal contingent of anti-Nancy Pelosi Democrats have ramped up calls for new leadership. But Fudge stopped short of a challenge on Tuesday.
Fudge threw her support behind Pelosi after the Democratic leader named Fudge the chair of the newly reinstated House Administration Subcommittee on Elections, which was previously disbanded in 2013.
“I am now confident that we will move forward together and that the 117th Congress will be a Congress of which we can all be proud,” Fudge said in a statement. “I now join my colleagues in support of the leadership team of Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn.”
While still a relative unknown nationally, Fudge has held some prominent roles both as a leader in the national Democratic Party and in Congress as the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, a cohort of mostly Democratic black lawmakers who have traditionally been close allies of Pelosi’s.
Fudge’s tone was notably different last week, when she told the Washington Post that she has been “overwhelmed” by how many of her colleagues have been pushing her to run for speaker. Fudge’s backers include some of the most prominent anti-Pelosi moderate Democrats, such as Reps. Seth Moulton (MA) and Tim Ryan (OH), who are among 16 lawmakers who signed a letter in opposition to Pelosi’s bid for speaker. Fudge declined to sign the final version of the letter, which was released Monday.
Congress needs a new leader. Period.— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) November 15, 2018
I’m hoping Marcia Fudge, my first (and arguably best) mentor in Congress will run for the next Speaker of the House. I have full faith in her ability to lead our new Congress to its fullest potential.
Pelosi, for her part, has openly welcomed a challenger. She’s typically had challengers in past races to be the Democratic leader.
“Come on in, the water is warm,” she told reporters on Thursday.
But behind the scenes, Pelosi was talking with Fudge to make a deal to resurrect the House Administration Subcommittee on Elections and appoint her to run it. In her statement, Fudge said her main concern with House leadership was that it was not diverse enough, but Pelosi had mollified those concerns.
Currently, Pelosi can only afford to lose roughly 16 Democrats and still reach the 2018 vote threshold to win the speakership. If Democrats pick up seats in the remaining House races, it could afford her a bit more wiggle room. While it looks like there may still be enough dissatisfaction to block Pelosi from the gavel, no one yet is willing to come forward to take her place.
Fudge represented a unique coalition — but not necessarily a strong one
Just two years ago, Fudge was briefly catapulted to the national stage to replace Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz as the chair of the Democratic National Committee, after Schultz resigned amid fallout from her leaked emails. She was tasked with opening the Democratic National Convention for Hillary Clinton to a booing crowd of Bernie Sanders supporters.
“I wouldn’t put anything past Marcia Fudge. If you watched her at the Democratic Convention when the Bernie crowd started to boo and she immediately shut it all down,” Cedric Richmond, the current chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, told reporters on Thursday.
Fudge’s priorities in the House are rather run-of-the-mill for a Democrat: She wants to protect people with preexisting conditions and invest in infrastructure, education, and more jobs. She holds a seat on both the Agriculture and the Science, Space, and Technology committees and is part of the progressive caucus.
Her one break from the party — which Pelosi allies were quick to note — is that she was one of two Democrats who came out against the Equality Act, a bill that would have expanded the Civil Rights Act to include protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The only other Democrat to oppose the bill was Rep. Dan Lipinski, an anti-abortion moderate from Illinois.
But Fudge says her opposition was not about her position on LGBTQ rights — which she says she has always supported — but that she was reluctant to signal that the Civil Rights Act could be relitigated.
Another issue that came up recently was Fudge writing a 2015 letter in support of former Ohio judge Lance Mason, who was sentenced in 2014 after beating his wife badly. This week, Mason was named a suspect in his wife’s death which drew attention to Fudge’s past support for him, according to Cleveland.com.
In 2013, Fudge was also the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, when she found herself censuring President Barack Obama for not appointing any African Americans to high-level positions in his administration.
The CBC, while always close to Pelosi, has been angling for a more prominent position on Democratic leadership. Their hope has been a greater role for Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), the current third-ranking House Democrat who is running for majority whip.
Clyburn, who considers Fudge a close friend, said last week that he would not discourage her from running. But prominent members of Congressional Black Caucus have already come out in support of Pelosi, like fellow Californian Rep. Maxine Waters and Georgia Rep. John Lewis.
Pelosi still has no challenger
Pelosi’s bid for speaker is looking less tenuous after Fudge dropped out, but she’s not out of the woods yet. Pelosi has long been used as a boogeyman for Republicans, and Democratic House candidates across the country spent two years trying to separate themselves from Pelosi on the campaign trail.
Newly elected members Abigail Spanberger (VA), Jason Crow (CO), and Conor Lamb (PA) have not signed the letter against Pelosi but have publicly committed to vote against her on the all-important January 3 floor vote. Pelosi’s allies are working on other freshman members who came out against her during the campaign but haven’t said much since. It’s not lost on the newly elected members that voting for Pelosi would be a difficult first conversation with their constituents.
But among Pelosi’s biggest advantages so far has been that for all the noise the anti-Pelosi lawmakers in the House have made, no one has seemed willing to step forward and challenge her. Even if Fudge had challenged Pelosi, it would have been nearly impossible for her to get the votes. Pelosi has a financial advantage that few in the party can match, and she has built strong relationships with many over her years at the helm.
The Democratic leader was projecting confidence in a Thursday press conference. “I intend to win the speakership with Democratic votes,” Pelosi said. “I have overwhelming support in my caucus to be speaker of the House.”
In short, there are a lot of calls for a fresh face to run the party, but not a lot of action.