Pressure Builds for Deal in Hoyer-Clyburn Race

Updated 5:14 p.m.

Pressure is building among House Democrats for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to step in to try to resolve the fight for Minority Whip between Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Whip James Clyburn (S.C.).

Democrats said they fear that if the race between Hoyer and Clyburn continues much longer, it will be difficult for the Caucus to unify and move forward after last week’s devastating midterm losses. Hoyer and Clyburn spent the week calling Members to shore up support for Minority Whip, which would be the No. 2 job in the minority leadership.

“I’m concerned the Caucus is going to be split,” Rep. Albio Sires said Monday. The New Jersey Democrat is backing Hoyer, and last week called on Pelosi to step aside as the Democratic leader. Pelosi announced Friday she would run for Minority Leader in the next Congress, a decision that forced a race between Hoyer and Clyburn for the next job in leadership.

“For a Caucus that has basically been decimated, we now have more issues to deal with other than trying to regroup and deal with what happened,” Sires said of the leadership scrum. “To me, that’s not logical, but maybe Washington is just not logical.”

“I’ve talked to a lot of Members, and a lot of Members, even though they are not speaking out, are upset,” he said.

Members are upset at the prospect of having to make a difficult decision choosing between Hoyer and Clyburn, Sires said. He added that Pelosi should try to find a way to create a new position to satisfy one or the other.

“It’s unfortunate this is happening,” added Rep. Jim Matheson, a prominent Blue Dog Democrat and Hoyer supporter who also previously called on Pelosi to step aside as leader. “It’s not what we need to be doing right now — is beating each other up as Democrats.”

The Utah Democrat said Pelosi’s decision to stay “makes it difficult in terms of everyone having a place to land” and that she should step in to help bring the showdown between Hoyer and Clyburn to an end.

“Anytime you have a battle within the family it is not helpful, so if steps can be taken to diminish that battle — to stop it — I think that would be the right thing,” Matheson said.

One rank-and-file Member was even harsher about Pelosi’s handling of the post-election fallout, and said the idea that Hoyer might get pushed out of leadership would be a “nightmare” that would permanently alienate the moderates who remain.

“People are wondering why she’s running again,” the lawmaker said. “It’s like Freddy Krueger — she’s back! Her popularity varies across most of the country, but in the heartland she’s about as popular as the devil, and that makes it tough.”

The Member said Pelosi should ask Clyburn to move back to Caucus chairman, a position the lawmaker argued was better suited to Clyburn’s personality. “Clyburn’s a great guy, but he’s never been a Whip. He’s too nice to be a Whip. And everybody takes a demotion except him? Guess what, we lost.”

Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), an early Clyburn backer, told Roll Call on Monday afternoon that she wanted Pelosi, a liberal, to step in and negotiate a deal that installs Clyburn as Whip. “I’m hoping the Speaker will work it out, and I’m confident she will,” she said, adding that “communities of color deserve a seat at the table” in the House Democratic leadership.

At the end of the day, Lee said, “the Speaker wants a unified leadership team.”

She added, “However it’s done, I think that’s what she wants.”

Hoyer and Clyburn have spoken in recent days, but it is unclear whether the pair is close to a resolution. Some Democrats have speculated that one of them might be willing to abandon the Whip race and seek the Caucus chairmanship instead if he were given a top spot on the Appropriations Committee. Others have suggested Pelosi might create a new position in leadership similar to the Assistant to the Speaker post she created for Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.).

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. on Monday publicly condemned the Hoyer-Clyburn battle. “Maybe Mr. Hoyer and his moderate-to-conservative coalition and Mr. Clyburn with his progressive coalition should be co-chairs of the DCCC and let someone else handle the task of convincing members of the caucus to ‘vote no’ on the Republican agenda that most of us are already against,” The Illinois Democrat said in a statement. “Mr. Hoyer and Mr. Clyburn both tout their experience in fundraising and supporting Democratic candidates — we need their joint experience at the DCCC.”

Spokesman Andrew Wilson said Jackson has “made no endorsement yet but reserves the right to do so.”

Most Democrats have dismissed the idea of a shared Clyburn-Hoyer chairmanship of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But several Democrats have said some type of deal will be worked out before any votes are cast. Van Hollen, the outgoing DCCC chairman, predicted Sunday that something would be worked out in the coming days that would allow both of them to stay in leadership.

Kathleen Hunter contributed to this report.

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