Caucuses Plot Leadership Races

Posted October 22, 2008 at 6:06pm

Correction Appended

A month after telling her colleagues she was stepping down as co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to make way for new leadership in the House Democrats’ liberal faction, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (Calif.) has changed her mind.

Woolsey instead will be seeking her third term atop the 71-member bloc, the largest Democratic caucus. The move comes as the leadership picture for other internal House Democratic groups begins to take shape.

Liberals are aiming for a Democratic sweep on Election Day. Their hope is that a big win would thaw an agenda frozen by a closely divided Senate and the Bush White House in the past two years.

Woolsey said she is jumping back in the race after deciding that the group needs continuity of leadership. Her co-chairwoman for the past four years, Rep. Barbara Lee (Calif.), is quitting to take the reins at the Congressional Black Caucus, where she is running unopposed.

“It became very clear to me that with all that’s going on in the world and in this country, we have such a need for a progressive voice,” Woolsey said. “The continuity we would lose with both Barbara and I leaving at the same time — it did not seem like the right thing to do.”

She added, “If members want all-new leadership, they will have options.”

Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.) has declared his candidacy, and Rep. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) is rumored to be interested. Her spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

Woolsey announced her decision in an e-mail to the caucus over the weekend, explaining that she would follow up with a letter to outline her goals for the group. She declined to detail them in an interview but suggested broadly that the caucus needs to position itself as a check on the party’s moderate wing, which is poised to grow next year.

“We will have way more Democrats in the House, which means that the Progressive Caucus will increase in size but so will other caucuses,” Woolsey said. “I want to ensure the Progressive Caucus continues to have a big voice and be part of the balance we must have to represent our Democratic base.” Of a potential President Barack Obama, she said, “We need to remind him that there are other arguments to his plans, so we can improve on them.”

The Progressive Caucus counts among its members some of the most powerful House Democrats, including eight committee chairmen and a slew of subcommittee chairmen — and it has an ideological ally in Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a former member. Its sheer numbers alone suggest it should be a force. But it has often lacked the cohesion of smaller groups, notably the moderate Blue Dogs.

With expanded Democratic majorities in both chambers likely and the possibility of a Democrat in the White House, the liberals are poised to find themselves jockeying with fellow Democrats more than with Republicans for control of the agenda.

Those other Democratic caucuses are likewise beginning to settle on their leadership lineups, with some familiar names in the mix. So far among these groups, there does not appear to be much competition for the top jobs.

Lee is set to take the helm at the CBC after serving in the second-ranking slot there during this Congress. Likewise, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), the vice chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, appears to be in the pole position to take over there next year. His office did not respond to repeated requests for comment about his interest in the job. But at least the past two chairmen of the caucus have first served as vice chairman, and spokesmen for the third- and fourth-ranking lawmakers in the group — Reps. Charlie Gonzalez (Texas) and Grace Napolitano (Calif.), respectively — said they will not make the race.

At the moderate New Democrat Coalition, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (Calif.) will be seeking her third term as chairwoman. She said in a recent interview that it would be her final stint leading the group.

Less clear is the plan for the Blue Dogs, led now by three co-chairmen: Rep. Allen Boyd (Fla.), administration; Rep. Mike Ross (Ark.), communications; and Rep. Dennis Moore (Kan.), policy.

On the other side of the aisle, there is an active two-way race for the chairmanship of the conservative Republican Study Committee between Reps. Tom Price (Ga.) and Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.). Both have interviewed with former leaders of the group, who are expected to issue a recommendation next month in advance of an election that could happen as soon as the lame-duck session set for the week of Nov. 17.

The endorsed candidate does not have a lock on the RSC chairmanship. The other contender can still choose to make the race by gathering signatures from a quarter of the group’s 106 members.

The moderate Tuesday Group, currently headed by Reps. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), uses a less formal process for selecting its leaders. Kate Dickens, a spokeswoman for the group, said both lawmakers are focused on their re-election races and have not made decisions about whether to seek another term leading the group. Leadership elections for the moderates could come as late as next year, Dickens said.

Correction: Oct. 23, 2008

The article incorrectly identified the home state of Democratic Rep. Grace Napolitano. She is from California.