Pelosi bid pits Hoyer vs. Clyburn
Pelosi bid pits Hoyer vs. Clyburn
By: John Bresnahan and Jonathan Allen
November 5, 2010 06:46 PM EDT
The brawl between Reps. Steny Hoyer (Md.) and James Clyburn (S.C.) for the number-two House Democratic post in the next Congress pits two 70-year-old heavyweights against each other, with the loser potentially out of leadership.
Hoyer and Clyburn currently serve as the majority leader and majority whip. With Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) stunning announcement that she will run for minority leader – and the near-certainty of her winning that race easily – Hoyer and Clyburn were forced to choose whether to run for minority whip. Both are doing so now, leaning hard on members for support, although Hoyer hasn’t made his official announcement yet, according to Democratic insiders.
While Clyburn would not have challenged Hoyer for minority leader, the truce didn’t extend to minority whip, and the two will now have to find out who has stronger support inside the caucus.
Clyburn informed Pelosi and Hoyer on Thursday that he planned to run for whip regardless of whether Pelosi ran for minority leader, according to source close to the South Carolina lawmaker. Democratic sources also tell POLITICO that it doesn’t appear that Pelosi is mobilizing behind Clyburn.
A huge unanswered question so far is whether Pelosi will weigh in the race. Democratic insiders said that it did not seem to be the case so far. For instance, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a key Pelosi ally, is supporting Hoyer.
The key for both men will be progressives inside the Democratic Caucus. Hoyer’s natural base of support among moderate and conservative Blue Dogs was decimated on Election Day, meaning that a liberal Democratic Caucus is even more so now. Hoyer has always had a somewhat uneasy relationship with this group of lawmakers, and if they throw their support to Clyburn, then Hoyer will face a difficult path to victory.
But Hoyer has worked to build ties to progressives, and he spent more time on the campaign trail – and handed out more money to his colleagues – than Clyburn did.
So handicapping the race at this early stage is extremely difficult to do.
“Throughout the course of my tenure, I have demonstrated the ability and willingness to give selfless service to our caucus,” Clyburn said in a statement announcing that he was running for whip. “My record of leadership in our caucus has prepared me well for the challenges ahead. I am confident we can rebuild the coalition that carried Democrats and President Obama into office in 2008 and that it will lead us on the road back to the majority in 2012.”
Hoyer said that he was “exploring a bid” for whip, but sources close to the Maryland Democrat said he is definitely running for the job.
“In the days since the election, I have received an outpouring of support from Democratic colleagues who have told me that I should remain in our party’s leadership, so that our caucus can hit the ground running with a strong, tested leadership team,” Hoyer said in his own statement. “Over the next several days, I will continue to speak to my colleagues about serving our caucus as Democratic whip, and I will announce a decision after I have consulted with them.”
Clyburn, the highest ranking African American in Congress, can count on a solid 30 to 40 votes from the Congressional Black Caucus.
“What you have is a very unfortunate situation where the music has stopped and there are musical chairs and there's one less chair,” said a CBC member who plans to support Clyburn but wants to find a spot for Hoyer in Democratic leadership, although not necessarily in the House. “We need to find a way as a caucus to have Steny Hoyer and what he brings to this process to stay involved and we have to find a way to get that done. … I could see Hoyer in any different number of ways, including running the DNC.”
“Having [Hoyer] within the leadership circle, is I think beneficial, but I think it would be hard for him to go up against Jim Clyburn,” said a moderate House Democrat. “I think it's strictly numbers.”
“I don’t know where Hoyer gets the votes,” said a top aide to one CBC member. “There’s 35 [CBC] votes for Clyburn. Are the progressives then going to vote for Steny?”
This source added: “I think Steny gets squeezed out.”
But other Democratic insiders said that Hoyer can assemble a winning coalition based on the remaining 20-plus Blue Dogs, Northeast lawmakers, junior members and those Democrats who didn’t want Pelosi to return as minority leader in order to come out on top.
“As majority leader, Hoyer has been a pillar of strength for members of the 111th Congress and I fully support him for Democratic whip,” said Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) in a statement on Friday. “He played a key role in passing health care reform and his support from a wide array of Democrats will help unite our caucus as we tackle difficult issues such as job creation and reforming our nation’s education system.”
A source familiar with House Blue Dogs said the preference for Hoyer is about having a voice in Democratic leadership and has nothing to do with Clyburn, with whom some Blue Dogs are close.
“If [Hoyer] gets pushed out, there will be new unifying force for the caucus,” the source said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if members just stopped talking to leadership altogether.”
Hoyer, 71, was first elected to the House in 1980 after serving more than 13 years in the Maryland State Senate. After Rep. David Bonior (D-Mich.) retired as minority whip in 2001, Hoyer took on Pelosi for the job but was soundly defeated. When Pelosi moved up to minority leader following the retirement of Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) the following year, Hoyer took over the whip job. When the Democrats seized control of the House in 2006, Hoyer beat back a challenge from the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) to become majority leader.
The garrulous Hoyer has developed a good working relationship with Pelosi, despite the bitter history between the two senior Democrats, although those close to the Maryland Democrat said even he was surprised by her decision to stay on as minority leader
Clyburn, 70, served 18 year as South Carolina human affairs commissioner before being elected to the House in 1992. A veteran of the civil rights movement, Clyburn became Democratic Caucus chairman in 2005, and then moved up to majority whip following the 2006 Democratic takeover.