Skip to content

House Democrats Jockey for Positions in Heirarchy

With House Democrats eyeing a chance at retaking the majority, Members are quietly positioning themselves for the new leadership opportunities that come with control of the chamber.

Throughout the Caucus, both progressive and conservative Members expect Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) to step up to Speaker and Majority Leader, respectively, without opposition. Both Pelosi and Hoyer have said they want those leadership positions, and if Democrats were to win the House, Members are expected to reward their current leaders with those plums.

In fact, well-placed aides and Members suggested that even if Democrats fail to win in November, Pelosi and Hoyer are likely to get at least one more cycle to prove themselves.

“It’s widely believed that neither Pelosi nor Hoyer will get a challenge and be held accountable after one cycle,” said one senior House Democratic staffer. “If [former Minority Leader Richard] Gephardt [Mo.] was not challenged after four cycles, you can expect Pelosi and Hoyer would be re-elected and unopposed after one cycle.”

Democrats currently utilize four leadership positions in the minority, and would gain at least one more if they net the 12 seats needed to win the House. (In addition to these elected positions, the chairmanship of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is appointed by the Speaker or Minority Leader.)

“There’s not a lot of discussion so far — people are so concentrated on their own races,” said Rep. Ron Kind (Wis.), a prominent member of the moderate New Democrat Coalition. “There’s not a lot of pre-positioning at this point.”

“My thought is: Let’s get to the goal first,” added Rep. Bill Pascrell (N.J.), who acknowledged that he may entertain a run for some position if Democrats win. “There are 205 of us, I’m sure there’s a few of us thinking about a position if they open up.”

Senior-level House Democratic sources say that behind the scenes, jockeying has already begun — and in fact has been under way for some time.

They added that the competition will definitely heat up once the landscape becomes clear, since Democratic lawmakers understand that their leadership campaigns would have to be put in place quickly and support already aligned if they retake the House on Nov. 2. Organizing caucuses, at which leadership races are held, will occur before the 109th Congress convenes in January.

Until last month, a potential wild card in the leadership game loomed as rumors circulated that Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.). could be tapped to replace Sen. Jon Corzine (N.J.) in the Senate if Gov. Jim McGreevey (D) stepped down before his announced Nov. 15 departure. McGreevey, however, stuck to his decision, and at least for now, Menendez will stay in the House and consider his leadership opportunities within the Caucus.

Menendez said recently that while his first goal is ensuring Democrats win back the House, he would seek the Majority Whip job assuming the current Whip, Hoyer, runs for higher leadership. Menendez said he believes he is worthy of the Majority Whip job, given his ongoing efforts to strengthen the party, raise money and provide a voice for House Democrats, particularly in the Hispanic community.

“I am first of all focused on achieving a majority because obviously there will be no opportunities legislatively or in leadership to move unless we have a majority,” Menendez said. “That is the first and foremost issue on my mind.”

“If that goal is achieved, then certainly … I would look forward to running for Whip,” Menendez added. “I believe I have established my credentials as Chief Deputy Whip to vice chair of the Caucus to chair of the Caucus.”

If for some reason Menendez opted not to run, others who could be interested include Rep. Martin Frost (Texas) — if he succeeds in his own re-election campaign this fall. Frost previously served as chairman of the Caucus and of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He briefly ran for the Minority Leader job in 2002.

“Frost still has ambitions,” said a high-level Democratic staffer.

Other likely contenders for Majority Whip could be Reps. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) and Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), both Chief Deputy Whips who want to climb the leadership ladder. Rep. John Lewis (Ga.), the Senior Chief Deputy Whip, also may consider running, House Democratic sources said.

Knowledgeable Democratic insiders said Caucus Vice Chairman James Clyburn (S.C.) is interested and would likely run to succeed Menendez in the Caucus chairman position. They say Clyburn would likely run unopposed or face no serious opposition for that job if the chairmanship opens up under a Democratic majority.

If Clyburn decides against running for chairman, however, that seat could draw a handful of candidates to the race, including Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), who lost the post to Menendez by one vote in 2002. Most believe DeLauro, a close ally of Pelosi’s, would have a strong shot at winning that seat and would likely scare off other female candidates.

“I don’t think anyone besides DeLauro is positioned to run for a position like that,” said one House Democratic source.

The fifth position in a Democratic majority is the Caucus vice chairmanship, and the slot is likely to draw the most candidates and the fiercest competition. This lowest-level leadership position is often a launching pad for ambitious lawmakers.

Leadership aides suggested Schakowsky and Crowley may be interested in the Caucus vice chairman job, along with Reps. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), John Larson (Conn.), Gregory Meeks (N.Y.) and perhaps Diana DeGette (Colo.). The aides said a long shot may be a prominent member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition, but any candidate from that group understands their chances to win Caucus-wide are slim.

“It is all very fluid at this point,” said a Democratic leadership aide close to Pelosi. “There are so many different factors.”