Caucus Organization Set for Nov. 17

Posted October 18, 2004 at 6:37pm

House Democrats will return to Capitol Hill on Nov. 17 to elect leaders for the 109th Congress, a session that they hope involves bids for majority posts and one that could invite hefty competition from ambitious junior Members.

Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) called the special Members-only meeting for the second Wednesday after the general elections. The daylong caucus, which convenes at 9 a.m., comes during the anticipated lame-duck session set to begin Nov. 15. Newly elected lawmakers will also be in town that week for orientation.

The climate and substance of the Democratic organizing caucus is contingent on the outcome of the Nov. 2 elections and whether the minority party wins the 12 seats it needs to retake the chamber. With victory comes a fifth elected leadership slot and a lineup that begins with Speaker and Majority Leader. A status quo election will likely mean a return of the current slate of leaders.

“We’ll be a lot happier if we get the majority,” quipped one Democratic leadership aide, adding that the tone of the upcoming leadership elections is solely based on Nov. 2.

Members have already begun jockeying for a majority scenario, even though they recognize they face an uphill battle to get there this year. Still, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has publicly set her sights on the Speaker job, while Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) has said he wants to be Majority Leader and Menendez has begun a campaign for Majority Whip.

Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the Caucus vice chairman, has also privately discussed his plans to seek the chairmanship if Democrats win Nov. 2, sources inside the Caucus say.

“Presumably the Members of the leadership will move up a slot in so far they’ve indicated their interest,” said another Democratic leadership aide.

It is unclear whether those four Members will face a challenge, although leadership sources speculate there may be several ambitious lawmakers who would consider running for Caucus chairman or Whip under a Democratic majority.

Also to invite major competition would be the open Caucus vice chairman job (assuming Clyburn seeks a promotion), with several Members already eyeing the position.

Democratic leadership aides said several Members are eyeing that race, including Reps. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), John Larson (Conn.), Diana DeGette (Colo.) and Rahm Emanuel (Ill.). Other Members who may consider running for a majority post — although not the vice chairman job — include Reps. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), John Lewis (Ga.) and Martin Frost (Texas), assuming he survives his tough re-election campaign.

The Democratic Caucus currently employs four elected leadership positions, and if the party remains in the minority, Members anticipate little change to the current hierarchy. Pelosi, Hoyer, Menendez and Clyburn have indicated they each plan to serve another two-year term, and as yet no other Member has stepped up to challenge them.

In fact, some speculate they are not endangered even if Democrats lose seats this cycle.

“Ideally, we will win and even if we don’t we’ll pick up seats,” said one senior-level Democratic staffer. “But even if we don’t, given the obstacles placed in our way during [Texas] redistricting, Members understand leadership really took on an incredible task of raising money and vetting candidates. Everyone has worked really hard.

“They understand that now the outcome is on the voters.”