The endorsements phase of the campaign to become the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee next year began to heat up Wednesday, with two Congressional Black Caucus members throwing their support behind Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.
Reps. Emanuel Cleaver II, D-Mo., and Alcee L. Hastings, D-Fla., sent a “Dear Colleague” letter touting Wasserman Schultz as the best candidate for the job. The field vying to replace House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey also includes Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, each of whom have far more seniority on the spending panel than Wasserman Schultz.
Lowey, D-N.Y., is retiring at the end of the 116th Congress.
“We have served with each of the ... candidates for decades, and we know they all possess leadership skills and experience — qualities that would serve the Democratic Caucus, Congress and the American people well,” Hastings and Cleaver wrote. “However, we have determined that Debbie is uniquely positioned to excel as Chair of this critical Committee and help steer us through these consequential and transformative times.”
Hastings' support makes sense given Wasserman Schultz is a fellow Floridian, and he's serving as co-chairman of her informal whip team seeking to bolster support for her bid within the caucus. Cleaver's backing could be influential as a former Congressional Black Caucus chairman.
Cleaver and Hastings — a former federal judge who was impeached in 1988 for bribery allegations and has had his fair share of ethics investigations while serving in Congress — wrote that colleagues should support Wasserman Schultz because she would be a “strategic, savvy and empathetic” leader of the committee.
They touted a proposal Wasserman Schultz released in July that should she become the panel’s chairwoman, she would create an advisory panel to address systemic racism in the annual government funding process.
“These resource disparities have too often contributed to the perpetuation of systemic and institutional racism and oppression,” Cleaver and Hastings wrote. “Debbie is right to help the CBC push Congress to start thinking more seriously about these federal funding inequities.”
They pointed out the support of House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., for Wasserman Schultz's proposals when she announced them in July.
Clyburn, another senior CBC member, hasn't endorsed Wasserman Schultz's bid for the Appropriations gavel, at least publicly. But he's made clear in the past his fondness for the Florida Democrat, who he selected as a deputy whip after Democrats took back the House in the 2006 midterms.
Clyburn defended Wasserman Schultz when she was forced out as Democratic National Committee chairwoman in 2016 after investigators discovered her organization appeared to favor Hillary Clinton over Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the darling of progressives. He told the Post and Courier at the time that Wasserman Schultz was "treated unfairly," and that "Debbie is one of my best friends."
In their letter to colleagues, Cleaver and Hastings hinted that Wasserman Schultz is preparing to release more proposals for how she would overhaul the Appropriations Committee should she become chairwoman next year.
“These forthcoming reform proposals will reflect Debbie’s commitment to improving the transparency of and accessibility to the often complex and opaque appropriations process,” they wrote.