Van Hollen is also considered a top contender. The Maryland Democrat’s ambition has long been recognized. He was chosen to serve as the DCCC’s recruitment committee chairman and co-chaired the Red to Blue program with Wasserman Schultz for the 2006 cycle, when Democrats took the majority under then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), who some thought would be Pelosi’s heir apparent.
More recently, Van Hollen has asserted himself in the Caucus, persuading his colleagues to support him as the party leader on the Budget Committee even though the five-term lawmaker didn’t serve on the panel during the 111th Congress.
“I thought the Budget Committee would be in the middle of a national discussion and debate about our priorities,” Van Hollen said in an interview, declining to discuss his leadership ambitions. “These are issues that are important to the American people, and these are issues where there’s a clear difference between the Democratic approach and the Republican approach. I thought it was important to be part of that discussion.”
Pelosi has asked him to serve as the Caucus’ negotiator on several dicey political issues, including an extension of President George W. Bush’s tax cuts last year. Also at Pelosi’s behest, the Congressman is serving on the deficit reduction committee led by Vice President Joseph Biden.
Van Hollen has been sharpening his legislative chops after two rounds of leading the DCCC, a thankless role during the 2010 election cycle that Members lauded him for despite the party suffering a net loss of 63 seats and the majority.
One Democratic strategist said Van Hollen’s experience in the middle of difficult issues is a major selling point for him going into any leadership race.
“Pelosi is constantly putting him in these important, high-profile debates,” the strategist said. “He has been her go-to guy on complicated and tough issues.”
New York Democrats Israel and Rep. Joe Crowley are also considered potential leadership candidates. Pelosi has shown favoritism toward Israel, selecting him to lead the DCCC for the 2012 cycle. A largely unknown commodity, the six-term lawmaker will need to prove himself as a viable leader and consensus builder to have a shot at one of the higher slots later on, according to K Streeters.
Israel already stumbled in his current role, upsetting members of the Congressional Black Caucus in March when he reportedly said the caucus would be helpful to Democrats’ 2012 prospects but not essential. Since then, Israel has made a point of trying to assuage any old wounds with the CBC and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Asked about his leadership ambitions, Israel said in a statement, “I’m solely focused on my district, holding Republicans accountable, and what Democrats need to do to win the House in 2012.”