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Black Caucus at Crossroads as Marcia Fudge Mulls Speaker Bid

Several CBC members still supporting Pelosi but Chairman Cedric Richmond predicts flips if Fudge runs

Reps. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, left, pictured at the 2016 Democratic National Convention with James Clyburn, D-S.C., is thinking about running for speaker. Clyburn said he’s not discouraged Fudge from running but that he’s still supporting Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Reps. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, left, pictured at the 2016 Democratic National Convention with James Clyburn, D-S.C., is thinking about running for speaker. Clyburn said he’s not discouraged Fudge from running but that he’s still supporting Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The possibility that Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge might challenge Nancy Pelosi for speaker seems to have some of her colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus torn, despite many saying Thursday they still plan to support Pelosi.

But one notable member of the CBC would not make such a pledge, Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond.

“I’m not anti-Pelosi, but whatever Marcia does, I’m very pro-Marcia,” the Louisiana Democrat said. “But I have not seen that Marcia is running for speaker. I think this is something that others are pushing.”

Those others, the anti-Pelosi contingent that Fudge has long been part of, claim to have enough members in their ranks willing to vote against Pelosi in the floor vote for speaker. The group has been at a disadvantage, however, because they did not have a candidate to challenge Pelosi — that is, until Fudge said Thursday evening she was considering it.

Richmond predicted that if Fudge runs for speaker, many other CBC members would support her — even ones who’ve said they’ll back Pelosi.

When he shared these thoughts with reporters Thursday afternoon, Richmond hadn’t yet spoken to Fudge about her interest in the speakership but said he planned to later that evening. Richmond has dinner with Fudge, South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn and Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson every night when they’re working in Washington. 

Clyburn, the No. 3 Democrat in leadership, told reporters he had talked to Fudge and said that while he wasn’t discouraging her from running, he remained committed to Pelosi.

Other Pelosi allies in the CBC were less clear about how they’d react if Fudge entered the race. 

“I think she is a wonderful person,” Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said of Fudge. “We have wonderful leaders, wonderful women, wonderful African-American women. We’ve all worked together and have a particular expertise. She has expertise. And I’m just waiting to see what happens. As I said, I’ve made my commitment to Speaker Pelosi, but I’m a believer in bringing all people together. And that’s what I suspect to be happening.”

Watch: Pelosi Talks Midterm ‘Wave,’ Says She Has Votes for Speakership

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Jackson Lee’s inclination to avoid a battle between Fudge and Pelosi seemed to be the preference of many CBC members. But for months caucus members had been signaling they’d be united in supporting their own for leadership bids as they sought to grow the influence of the caucus.

At the time that strategy seemed largely about supporting Clyburn, the assistant leader, and Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Co-Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York if they were to run for top leadership positions. 

Ultimately, Clyburn opted not to challenge the current pecking order and is running for his old job of majority whip, which he held when Democrats were last in the majority from 2007 through 2010. That would keep him in the No. 3 spot.

Jeffries isn’t striving as high as some had expected him to either. He is running for Democratic Caucus chair, the No. 5 position, against fellow CBC member Barbara Lee of California, a move that seemingly undermines the caucus’s unification strategy.

Ultimately the CBC is expected to unanimously support Clyburn in his race for whip against Colorado’s Diana DeGette and end up divided in the Jeffries-Lee contest for caucus chair. 

Exactly how they’d handle Fudge running for speaker remains unknown, but several CBC members said Thursday they’d be supporting Pelosi regardless of Fudge’s decision.

Those members included Clyburn, Jeffries, Georgia’s John Lewis and Hank Johnson, New York’s Gregory Meeks, Ohio’s Joyce Beatty, and Florida’s Val Demings

Marcia Fudge would make an excellent speaker. I’m pledged to support Nancy Pelosi,” Johnson said. 

Meeks said he hadn’t spoken to Fudge but that he was supporting Pelosi.

“We won, by a large margin, and the current leadership is the one that got us there,” he said. “So that’s where I am. I respect Marcia. She’s a very good friend, one of the best members here. … I’ll respect whatever decision that she makes, but I’m going to be voting for Pelosi.”

Pelosi’s experience is important with the work Democrats have ahead, Demings said.

“I think you put your best generals forward, your battle-tested generals, and that’s Leader Pelosi,” she said.

Others not specifically asked about Fudge, such as California’s Karen Bass and Maxine Waters, reiterated their support for Pelosi on Thursday too.

“I think she’s got the numbers already,” Waters said, echoing Pelosi’s own comments earlier Thursday that she would win a floor vote for speaker if it were held today

At least one CBC member, New Jersey’s Donald Payne, acknowledged he was undecided given the new information of Fudge looking at running for speaker.

One big question mark that might factor into CBC members’ decisions is the effect Fudge and the anti-Pelosi contingent efforts might have on Clyburn’s bid for majority whip.

Some believe that if Pelosi gets pushed out, the entire leadership hierarchy reopens for debate and people running for lower-level spots may aim higher.

Asked if Fudge would be a threat to Pelosi, Clyburn said, “She’ll be a threat to me as well. Because I really believe I have put together a team. I’m supporting that team. And that team is Pelosi, Hoyer, and Clyburn.”

He later clarified that it was Fudge who suggested her running for speaker might hurt his bid for minority whip.

“She said to me, ‘I don’t want to say anything or do anything to hurt you because I’m supporting you,’” Clyburn said, noting he told her not to worry about him. 

As for Pelosi, Clyburn remains confident she’ll get the votes to be elected speaker. So too does Jeffries, who rejected a question about him running for speaker if Pelosi didn’t get the votes as a “hypothetical.”

“I think she’s going to get to 218,” he said. “I’m certainly going to be a part of that.”

Correction 9:13 a.m. | A previous version of this article misstated Rep. Bennie Thompson’s state. He represents Mississippi.

Correction 9:39 a.m. | A previous version of this article misstated Rep. Cedric Richmond’s party. He is a Democrat.

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