Pelosi, deputies cling to power in Congress; DeGette challenges Clyburn for majority whip
Author: Washington Examiner - November 13, 2018 - Updated: November 13, 2018
by Laura Barrón-López, The Washington Examiner
Democrats are poised to re-elect their long-reigning triumvirate of leaders in the House of Representatives despite calls for a generational shift from a number of new members impatient for change.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her two deputies, who will all be 80 by the 2020 elections, declared for the top three spots in leadership after last week’s election, which sent Democrats into their first majority in eight years. They occupied the top three slots the last time the Democrats entered the majority, in 2006.
Though a vocal group of Pelosi defectors is actively whipping against the California Democrat, no one has mounted a bid against her or her second-in-command and presumptive majority leader, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland.
But in a sign of simmering unrest, Rep. Jim Clyburn, current assistant Democratic leader, is facing an unexpected challenge for the majority whip spot from Colorado Democrat Diana DeGette.
DeGette’s maneuver has been viewed as brave but doomed to fail, according to multiple members and staff. DeGette, who is a deputy whip, has long wanted a higher post in leadership but as Pelosi, Hoyer, and Clyburn stay on younger members with ambition are left to compete against each other for lower posts — including caucus chair, assistant Democratic leader, and chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
One of the leading arguments against Pelosi and her deputies isn’t their policies but their tactics for messaging and their near two-decade control. DeGette took a shot at the three leaders’ ages in an interview with a local Denver outlet, WestWord, published Monday.
“At this point, we haven’t seen anybody running against Nancy, so it’s hard to say what I’m going to do, because I don’t know who might be running,” DeGette said. “But Nancy, Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn, the assistant leader, are all 79 years old. We need to have some transition planning.” Pelosi and Clyburn are 78, not 79.
Pelosi supporters argue that detractors fuel GOP talking points when hitting Pelosi’s age and that now is not the time to oust the only female at the leadership table with President Trump.
Clyburn is sure to be backed by a majority of the Congressional Black Caucus. Before the election, Rep. Cedric Richmond sent a letter to colleagues that laid down a marker for the potential scramble for power. If there is a shakeup within leadership, Richmond said, a black member must be in at least one of the two top leader positions.
But DeGette could find some support among other female members or those who are fed up with having the same leaders. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a Pelosi supporter, wouldn’t say if she’d vote for Clyburn or DeGette for the third-ranking majority whip spot.
“Jim Clyburn was all over the country; Diana DeGette was helpful in many of the elections,” Schakowsky, D-Ill., said Monday. “And so I haven’t decided yet, we’ll take a look at it.”
But the tensions within the caucus are apparent as younger members rush to nab one of the fourth or fifth-ranking leadership positions and detractors circulate a letter for signatures that vows opposition to Pelosi on the House floor. Some Pelosi loyalists have started to wonder aloud if she’s in trouble.
“We’ve got a battle-tested leader at the top and I’m hoping she will absolutely prevail,” Schakowsky said. “I know she will prevail in the caucus, the question is will some minority in the caucus try to sideline her on the floor, which I think would be very destructive.”
Schakowsky and 13 other Democrats, including Reps. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., Jamie Raskin, D-Md., and Don Beyer, D-Va., sent out a letter Monday, urging members to reject a rule change that would require Pelosi to have support of 218 members, a supermajority, in the private caucus vote set for Nov. 28. Currently when picking a speaker, whoever receives a simple majority of the secret-ballot caucus vote is elected and the caucus unites behind the member on the House floor, delivering the necessary 218 votes.
Pelosi detractors are trying to change that caucus rule, and members are expected to debate the change at a Wednesday meeting. There’s also a possibility Pelosi opponents force a vote on the rule change at the meeting.
“When the votes are counted and we have selected our leaders in the caucus — whoever they are — we need to unite behind them,” Schakowsky and the 13 other members wrote to colleagues. “Now that we are finally in the Majority, it will be baffling to the public and self-defeating to block the Caucus’ choice on the floor, either through a formal change to the Rules or an informal abandonment of the Caucus.”
“The eyes of the nation will be on us on January 3, when we are sworn in and take the reins of power, and we thus have an historic opportunity to demonstrate our sense of unity,” the letter continues.
Leaders of the progressive caucus, which is welcoming a large contingent of freshman Democrats, have yet to say how they will vote. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., is deciding to keep his powder dry, saying he doesn’t have an announcement until he knows who is running. Pocan and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., plan to sit down Thursday with the top three leaders.
“We are concerned not only about the top spot, we are concerned about what all of leadership looks like we think that there need to be strong progressive voices in a number of different spots in order to reflect the size of the Progressive Caucus and the energy that came from the progressive base and movement across the country,” Jayapal said Monday.