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Roll Call

Caucus Vice Chairman Slot Up for Grabs

Shuffle for Democratic Leadership Roles Begins to Heat Up as Elections Draw Nearer

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
With current House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra term-limited in that role, the race to succeed him is on. Rep. Jared Polis (above) is an appealing prospect for the left and center of the Caucus and would be the first openly gay Member elected to Democratic leadership.

Ask the Democratic lawmakers involved, and they’ll swear to you they’re focused on one thing only: winning as many seats as they can in November’s elections, hopefully propelling their party into the House majority.

But behind the scenes, the calls have already begun, starting with what will likely be a three-way race for Caucus vice chairman involving Reps. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), Jared Polis (Colo.) and Barbara Lee (Calif.).

None have announced publicly.

“I’ve been encouraged by a number of my colleagues to run and I would certainly be honored to serve as vice chair. I’m talking to my colleagues and am seeking their guidance and input,” Lee told Roll Call in a statement.

Crowley, who lost a heated, three-way race for vice chairman to current Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) in 2006, has long held leadership ambitions. But he backed Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) over Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) in the 2001 Whip race, and as Pelosi has moved up the leadership ladder since then, Crowley has been unable to break into the leadership ranks.

He has repeatedly offered to lead the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, but Pelosi has consistently rebuffed him, according to one source.

But in his current bid, the New York Democrat has garnered support from some Members in Pelosi’s backyard, including Rep. Linda Sánchez (Calif.).

And while Polis is a solid fundraiser, Crowley has raised more than five times as much money as Polis this cycle, $9.2 million to $1.7 million, giving him much more of an opportunity to dole out cash to colleagues and up-and-coming candidates.

“Members want to know what you can do for them,” one chief of staff said.

Crowley has moved to raise his profile this Congress by loudly defending Obamacare and attacking the GOP on its no-new-taxes pledge.

The case for Polis is his appeal to both the left of the Caucus and its center. He’s a member of the New Democrat Coalition and the Progressive Caucus. Polis would be the first openly gay Member elected to Democratic leadership.

However, Lee, an avowed liberal, could consolidate support from fellow liberals who are choosing on ideological grounds.

Several other names have been floated, including Reps. Karen Bass (Calif.) and Allyson Schwartz (Pa.). But it is unclear whether they will run, and Crowley, Polis and Lee have a head start.

This race is the most clearly defined because current Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) is term-limited and likely to vie for the Caucus chairman slot that Larson, who also is term-limited in that capacity, is vacating.

After that, the situation becomes decidedly more complicated.

For instance, according to three Democrats with knowledge of the situation, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, is calling Members for support of an unspecified bid. She hasn’t yet said what she’ll be running for.

Her office said “the Congresswoman is focused on re-electing President [Barack] Obama, retaking our majority in the House and expanding our majority in the Senate.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), ranking member on the Budget Committee, has been a key negotiator for Democrats on spending issues this Congress and is seen by some as a Pelosi protégé with considerable promise. But what role he’ll seek in the short term remains a mystery.

“We’re focused on getting the job done right now — seriously!” he said recently.

Although many think Van Hollen covets one of Maryland’s two seats in the Senate, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Md.) does not appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.

The 76-year-old is the senior Senator, while the 68-year-old junior Senator, Benjamin Cardin (Md.), is in his first term and is cruising to re-election this year.

New York Rep. Steve Israel, current chairman of the DCCC, could make a bid for something but is currently occupied with the elections.

Alternatively, he could stay on as DCCC chairman, although one House aide said most think he would like to move on.

Larson is interested in staying in leadership but appears to be waiting until after the elections to see what the options are.

Democrats face an uphill climb to reclaim the House, so there will likely be the same number of leadership positions in the next Congress for ambitious Democrats.

If they were to win back the House, the Majority Leader slot would open a new, additional position.

When Democrats were in the majority, the position of Assistant to the Speaker existed and Van Hollen filled it. But that post may be difficult to reinstate, given the Assistant Minority Leader role created for Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.).

There is also nothing preventing another Democrat from vying for that role.

Democrats are waiting to see whether Pelosi stays for the duration of the 113th Congress, although people who know her well say she is unlikely to opt for a quick exit.

Some instead predict that Pelosi will stay in Congress to help set the stage for a successor, rather than allow Hoyer to simply move up the ranks to replace her.

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