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Democrats’ Next Generation of Leaders Bides Time

Insiders emphasize the House Democrats’ youthfulness and track records of hard work

The House Democratic leadership mold continues to harden, as Reps. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida are expected to remain in their current positions, which are effectively out of the upper echelon of caucus leadership ranks.

On Thursday, the Democratic Caucus is on track to sign off on keeping its top leaders in place for the 113th Congress — Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland and Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina.

Current Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra of California is on track to win his bid to become caucus chairman, and Reps. Joseph Crowley of New York and Barbara Lee of California are vying to become caucus vice chairman.

Pelosi’s Nov. 14 decision to stay left the top ranks in place, stranding three would-be leaders — Van Hollen, Wasserman Schultz and current Caucus Chairman John B. Larson of Connecticut — without obvious places to move up to.

That dynamic leaves Van Hollen and Wasserman Schultz, if they want to make future bids to move up the ranks, in the position of burnishing their leadership bona fides outside the formal leadership structure. Both are fixtures on cable television and loyal foot soldiers of the party, but they would still lack the formal leadership staff and perks that come with being leader, whip or the like.

Former Rep. David E. Bonior of Michigan, once minority whip, said Wasserman Schultz did “extraordinarily” well as Democratic National Committee chairwoman. “She is tenacious. You can just see it in her body language,” Bonior said.

As ranking member of the House Budget Committee, Van Hollen is a favorite surrogate of the White House on fiscal issues, and he has previously served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and as assistant to the speaker when Democrats were in the majority.

Bonior, who served as Democratic whip before leaving the House to unsuccessfully run for Michigan governor, said Van Hollen is in a good position for future advancement.

“A formal role is always nice, but that is quite a leadership opportunity” as the top Democrat on the budget panel, Bonior said.

Aides expect Van Hollen to continue as ranking member on the Budget Committee.

Van Hollen also attends Democratic leadership meetings, despite not having a formal role in the leadership structure besides his position as the ranking member of a committee.

“Ranking member of Budget is a leadership position,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said.

Shortly after Pelosi’s announcement, Larson, who was facing term limits as caucus chairman, bowed out of the leadership team altogether.

But neither Wasserman Schultz nor Van Hollen have formally announced their plans, as the Democratic leadership elections approach.

However, a senior Democratic source told Roll Call, “It seems likely that Wasserman Schultz will stay on as DNC chair.”

The Florida Democrat attended more than 850 campaign events in 31 states in her 18-month tenure.

Despite reports of clashes between her and President Barack Obama’s top political hands, David Axelrod, Obama’s top strategist, thanked Wasserman Schultz “for her tireless, effective leadership as party chair throughout this campaign!” Nov. 5 on Twitter.

Obama ultimately decides who serves atop the national committee.

Other Democrats also praised Wasserman Schultz for her tenure at DNC.

Jaime Harrison, a principal at the Podesta Group, said Wasserman Schultz was well received at local events throughout the country and understands the importance of teaching the Obama campaign’s data-heavy approach to state parties.

“She would understand the need to invest in state parties,” Harrison said.

A second former member noted both Van Hollen and Wasserman Schultz have plenty of years ahead of them.

“Remember, they’re young. Time is on their side,” the former member said.

Van Hollen is 53; Wasserman Schultz is 46.

But they might also have to contend with the lower rungs of the leadership ladder, who might in years to come make bids of their own for whip and leader slots. Becerra is 54, Crowley is 50, and Lee is 66.

New York Rep. Steve Israel, whom Pelosi appointed to stay on for a second term as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, is 54.

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