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Wistful Larson Looks Back on Democratic Caucus Chairmanship

Rep. John B. Larson says term limits on the Democratic Caucus chairman slot he held for four years are a “good thing” for the party to ensure new leaders come up the ranks.

But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s decision not to step down after the elections froze the top echelon of the leadership team and, in the process, squeezed Larson out.

“I am heading up the feather duster caucus,” the seven-term Connecticut congressman joked about what role he will play in the next Congress. “I’m fond of quoting my grandfather Nolan, who famously said, ‘Peacock one day, feather duster the next.’ So I’m looking forward to this very engaging role that I will have.”

A passionate liberal, Larson has tended to deliver a more emotional pitch at weekly news conferences than most politicians, getting worked up much like a Sunday preacher.

Larson is affable and well-liked by colleagues who, he said, tried valiantly to convince him to mount an unlikely challenge to one of his higher-ranked peers.

“I spent, I think, more time telling people, that I was not challenging anybody else,” Larson said.

Larson’s fierce support of his fellow leaders rendered any coup attempt out of the question.

“If we were in the majority, there would have been an opportunity for me. And if someone chose to step aside there would have been an opportunity for me. But I support all of them. I worked with all of them. I commend all of them. So that was never in the mix for me,” Larson said.

Larson grew wistful when speaking of the job he held.

“It’s, obviously between vice chair and chair, it’s something I’ve enjoyed — I love the members. The richness of this whole place is getting to know people in their districts and learning about them and the things they care about.

“The trust that they place in you as the caucus chair. This job is a members’ member job. It’s really second-tier leadership. Because what you have is, you have the top three leaders, and then when you hold the caucus, the purpose of the caucus is for the caucus is to hold the leaders accountable for the policies, and you know, from everything from the schedule and everything else. So you’re really the conduit for the membership in terms of those needs.”

He conceded that Democratic lawmakers could be a handful to lead.

“They’re a tough crew,” Larson said. “But they’re a generous, generous group of people. … They’re never shy about letting their concerns be known to me about leadership.

“I think the funniest thing is, it’s easier for them to talk to me then it is to, you know, talk to the general leadership. So more often than not, I get the unvarnished version of what they really think,” he said.

Walking back to his office in Longworth, Larson is waylaid by a man who asks, “I thought only the Republicans had term limits?”

“No, No. It’s a good thing for our caucus. I’ve got plenty to do,” Larson replied.

That will include a new focus on the Ways and Means Committee and on mentoring younger members, he said.

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