Democrats are now talking openly about Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s future in the House.
Promoting California Rep. Barbara Lee’s bid for Caucus vice chairwoman, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (N.C.) said Lee would bring a much-needed woman’s perspective to the leadership team should Pelosi step down.
“I don’t want an all-male leadership team. I mean, if we were to have, let’s say, Pelosi’s gone, if we had Steny Hoyer and [James Clyburn] and Xavier Becerra and Joe Crowley, that would be an all-male team. And that’s not a good idea. I think our Democratic Caucus is more diverse than that,” Butterfield told Roll Call.
The frank argument from Butterfield, a co-chairman of Lee’s campaign along with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), marks something of a turning point for House Democrats, who have often — but only privately — discussed Pelosi’s future.
One factor pushing those discussions into the open was Pelosi’s suggestion of delaying Democratic leadership elections to as late as December. That prompted concern among supporters of Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) that Pelosi was maneuvering to back a challenge to him should she give up the top post.
The date of the leadership elections for the new Congress remains undecided, Democratic sources said today.
Butterfield said he does not know Pelosi’s plans.
“Pelosi is not going to disclose her intentions to anyone outside of a very tightly knit circle,” he said. “So I would not be in a position to even begin to know what her intentions are. I can only guess.”
And Butterfield said he still hopes Democrats will win control of the House and be able to reinstall Pelosi as Speaker.
“But if for whatever reason that doesn’t happen, then there’s going to be a major realignment,” Butterfield said.
A senior Democratic aide noted that the vice chairmanship isn’t the only leadership slot a woman could occupy. Should Pelosi leave, the source said, that would introduce fluidity into the leadership races, providing women with new opportunities.
In particular, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) would likely enter the mix for Assistant Leader if Pelosi left, Hoyer ran for Minority Leader and Rep. James Clyburn, the current Assistant Leader, campaigned for Whip.
Butterfield said it is not clear whether the Assistant Leader position is permanent or whether it or the Caucus chairman’s job is the third-ranking leadership post.
Lee is up against Reps. Joe Crowley (N.Y.) and Jared Polis (Colo.) for the vice chairmanship, although neither has officially announced their candidacy.
“My focus right now, like that of so many of my colleagues, is putting Democrats back in charge of the House. Looking forward, I have talked to many of my colleagues who have strongly encouraged me to run for vice chair, which I am doing,” Lee said in a statement to Roll Call.
Most Democrats have viewed the race as primarily between Crowley and Polis, but Lee holds sway among the party’s liberal wing.
One significant challenge for Lee is that fellow Californian Becerra is all but certain to ascend to Caucus chairman. Some Democrats doubt the Caucus would put two lawmakers from the same state into the chairman and vice chairman slots.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.