Caucus Anxious Over Possible Clyburn-Hoyer Race

Posted November 5, 2010 at 5:25pm

The potential for a bloody battle for Minority Whip between Reps. Steny Hoyer (Md.) and James Clyburn (S.C.) sent ripples of anxiety through the Democratic Caucus on Friday, with no clear favorite and the potential to split the party along racial and ideological lines.

Allies in both Clyburn’s and Hoyer’s camps said they were confident they would prevail.

“He’s confident that he has the support that he would need to be Whip,” said a Democratic aide close to Clyburn. “Clyburn has a strong relationship with not just the Progressive Caucus but moderates as well. Hoyer has represented moderates at the leadership table well, but I think Clyburn has done a good job representing a diversity of views. I think you’ll see support from many CBC and CHC members, many progressives and even some moderates,” the aide said.

Hoyer also has strong relationships across the Caucus and easily won a fight in 2006 for Majority Leader despite Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) backing his challenger, the late Rep. John Murtha (Pa.).

But many of Hoyer’s core supporters lost their seats Tuesday. Still, a senior Democratic aide close to the Majority Leader said he has been getting calls from Members across the ideological spectrum urging him to stay in leadership, and he has the personal relationships to prevail. And without a real moderate in leadership, the Caucus could struggle to regain the majority.

“The most important thing in the 112th Congress is to have a unified Caucus, and the way to have a unified Caucus is to have Steny Hoyer in leadership,” the aide said.

Several Democratic lawmakers started declaring their support for Hoyer on Friday afternoon, including Reps. Ed Markey (Mass.), Peter Welch (Vt.) and Jared Polis (Colo.).

“I intend to support Steny Hoyer to be our minority whip, because I think that he and Nancy Pelosi will unify the Caucus and take us back to the majority in two years,” Markey said in a statement.

Welch also came out strongly Friday for Hoyer to keep a prominent leadership post.

“The Democrats need to do two things,” Welch said. “One is have a hard-headed analysis of why we lost, and two, have a concrete plan to retake the majority. We lost in swing districts, and Steny is the primary bridge builder and has immense credibility in swing districts. We need to keep him in leadership to help us regain the majority.”

Welch acknowledged the dilemma Members feel because most support the entire leadership team, but there is one fewer leadership slot in the minority.

“We’re all going to have to make a choice,” Welch said. “The essential question for the Caucus, from the Blue Dogs to the progressives, is what can we do to regain the majority?”

Polis also backed Hoyer in a statement Friday.

“As Majority Leader, Hoyer has been a pillar of strength for members of the 111th Congress and I fully support him for Democratic Whip,” he said. “He played a key role in passing health care reform and his support from a wide array of Democrats will help unite our Caucus as we tackle difficult issues such as job creation and reforming our nation’s education system.”

Hoyer will have to weigh the prospect of a divisive battle that would likely pit the bulk of the Congressional Black Caucus against Hoyer’s core supporters. Even if he wins, Hoyer would have aced out the only black member of leadership and could make enemies in the process.

That possibility was putting a number of friends of both men in an awkward position, Democratic aides said.

CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said Friday that she will support Clyburn in his bid for Whip. She cited the importance of diversity in the Caucus leadership but also his experience.

“His political acumen, his understanding of the political process and his ability to work across party lines, with people from the South, rural communities, from the north, from urban communities — I think he’s the best person for this job,” she said.

And Lanier Avant, chief of staff for Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), said that the Congressman “will support Clyburn for whatever position” he seeks.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), the vice chairman of the CBC, is undecided.

“He is close to both Rep. Hoyer and Rep. Clyburn, and the choice between them will be a difficult one,” spokeswoman Mary Petrovic said.

Several K Streeters said Hoyer is going full-throttle for the No. 2 position. “He’s in a lean forward mode,” one former Democratic leadership aide said.

Hoyer is looking to capitalize on his relationships with the Old Bulls and chairmen, according to the aide.

While race politics is likely to be an issue in the battle, one former Democratic leadership aide who is also a minority said that shouldn’t be the case because Hoyer can argue that Clyburn should drop down a notch on the leadership ladder. Hoyer is one rung above Clyburn in the hierarchy.

“It’s not a racial or gender thing,” the former aide said. “Everybody should move down.”

Still, the former aide noted that Congressional Hispanic Caucus and CBC members who might favor Hoyer for Whip are having a hard time siding with him, particularly because if every member of leadership moved down, Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) would be the odd man out. Becerra has declared a bid for caucus vice chairman in the minority.

Other Democratic aides unaffiliated with either camp were bracing for an ugly battle.

“Word is it’s going to get really, really nasty,” one aide said.

Anna Palmer, Kate Hunter, Theo Emery and Margaret Kriz Hobson 
contributed to this report.