Hoyer has cultivated liberal allies who would insulate him from opposition if the leader position were to open up.
The story hit at 10:40 p.m. the night before House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was expected to make a major announcement.
Though her official decision was less than 12 hours away, nearly all of Washington, including the California Democrat’s top aides, was still in the dark about whether she would say she was staying in or leaving Congress.
So liberal activists, led in the House by Illinois Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky, launched an urgent bid to lobby Pelosi to stay on as the top House Democrat. If she didn’t, the liberal Huffington Post reported, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, a “moderate Democrat with ties to business,” would ascend to her position.
Only Pelosi could unite Democrats on issues such as immigration, Schakowsky’s husband, Democratic activist Robert Creamer, told reporter Ryan Grim. Without Pelosi, a “conservative Democrat will take over. It will be bad news,” the Progressive Change Campaign Committee told its San Francisco members that evening.
The next day, Pelosi announced she was sticking around after all, rendering the whole exercise unnecessary. But if Pelosi had decided to retire or step down from leadership, the high-profile doubts aired about Hoyer don’t reflect his standing with progressives inside the Capitol.
Despite the rap that he is too centrist and tied to the business community, Hoyer has cultivated key liberal allies in the House who would likely insulate him from any opposition he would encounter if the leader position were to open up.
“On the issues that matter to me, he’s always there. In this case, this phrase we always use, ‘labels don’t matter’ — it really doesn’t matter!” said Rep. José E. Serrano, D-N.Y., one of the most liberal members of the caucus.
“I am more liberal, more progressive than Hoyer and yet I always respect his opinion on key issues that we face,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, D-Mo., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “He has, with great intentionality, reached out to all parts of the Democratic coalition represented in our caucus.”
Even some outside liberal groups say Hoyer has been a loyal Democrat.
“On every major battle, Hoyer has been in the trenches with progressives,” said Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress.
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said that about a year ago, he expressed his disagreement to Hoyer, one of Israel’s most ardent defenders in Congress, about his policy on checkpoints in the Gaza Strip.
In response, Hoyer invited Ellison to dine at the nearby Monocle restaurant. “Whenever I want to talk to Steny, he’s available. Whenever I want to express views, he’s open,” Ellison said.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.