The upcoming Democratic leadership elections pose risks for the Congressional Black Caucus, as questions surround Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn’s future and how the group would fare in a leadership shake-up.
It’s a top CBC agenda item for when Congress returns, said the group’s chairman, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), even if campaigning and uncertainty about which positions will be open have thwarted its members from deciding on a concrete strategy.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s future looms large over the CBC. The Californian’s absence would prompt Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) to run for leader, leaving the Whip slot vacant. Would Clyburn run for it?
Publicly, the South Carolinian has taken an aggressive posture, telling Roll Call in May he intended to run “at least” for Whip. Clyburn indicated that his comments were premised on Democrats retaking the House, adding “I’m not making any plans to challenge anybody. I hope nobody’s making plans to challenge me.”
Privately, Democrats harbor doubts.
Clyburn is said to be heavily weighing family considerations. And some Democrats question whether his last tenure as Whip was a success.
Clyburn as Whip “was a frustrating experience for a lot of Members, and at various points other members of the leadership team had to step in to meet the duties of the whip operation,” a senior Democratic aide said.
Other Democrats are anxious to run for Whip, including Rep. Diana DeGette (Colo.), a Hoyer ally with a liberal pedigree, though DeGette would not challenge Clyburn for the spot.
A second Democratic aide said the CBC is interested in preventing non-CBC Members from jumping Clyburn in seniority.
Meanwhile, shortly after Rep. Norm Dicks (Wash.) announced he was retiring, Clyburn floated a trial balloon of him taking Dicks’ spot as the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, Democratic sources said.
Two Democratic women with seniority on the spending panel, Reps. Marcy Kaptur (Ohio) and Nita Lowey (N.Y.), are fighting for the top Democratic slot, and committee insiders said Clyburn’s ascension there was a long shot.
But the discussion of other roles for Clyburn shows uncertainty in his future on the leadership team.
For example, nearly two years after it was created, Clyburn’s “Assistant Leader” position continues to cause confusion among Members and aides about his exact responsibilities and where he ranks in the hierarchy of the leadership team.
“We still don’t know how to really classify the Clyburn position,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said in a recent interview.
But others said Clyburn is all but certain to remain in leadership and would definitely run for Whip if it were open.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.