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Katherine Clark wins assistant speaker race against David Cicilline

House Democrats re-elect other top leaders, Pelosi, Hoyer, Clyburn and Jeffries, who were unopposed

House Democrats on Wednesday elected Massachusetts Rep. Katherine M. Clark as assistant speaker, making her the second-highest-ranking woman ever in party leadership, behind Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Clark, 57, who got her start in leadership this Congress serving as caucus vice chairwoman, beat Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, 59, the outgoing chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, for the No. 4 position in the caucus. The vote was 135-92.

Clark entered the House in 2013 after winning a special election to replace Edward J. Markey, who was elected to the Senate. She has quickly climbed the ranks in a caucus that has a reputation for stagnant leadership.

[5 things to watch in House Democrats’ leadership elections]

The assistant speaker spot was open because the current occupant, New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Luján, is moving to the Senate. 

Clark said she was “honored and humbled” to be joining the leadership team in her new role.

“I can tell you this about our caucus: We are the guardians of people’s hopes and aspirations. And we are going to be the unified engine for change,” she said in a news conference after the vote.

Cicilline congratulated Clark, noting in a statement that the race was a “hard fought campaign” but that Democrats would come together to deliver on their policy promises. “I look forward to being a part of those efforts and doing whatever I can to make real progress for the people we serve,” he said.

Clark is now in prime position to ascend to a higher role — potentially even one day becoming the second female speaker — after Pelosi and her top lieutenants retire. 

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, 50, who was reelected to the No. 5 position Wednesday by acclamation and was unopposed, is also considered a potential Pelosi successor and could be the first Black speaker.

The caucus also reelected Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, 81, and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, 80, by acclamation.

Pelosi, 80, was nominated for speaker by voice vote. But to secure the gavel again, she still needs to win a floor vote in January. 

Democrats will have a single-digit majority in the next Congress. That means Pelosi will need to convince some of the Democrats who did not support her in the speaker vote two years ago to back her this time. At least 10 Pelosi opponents — potentially 11, depending on the outcome of Rep. Anthony Brindisi’s uncalled race in New York — are returning next year. Two of them, though, Reps. Jim Cooper and Jason Crow, are now planning to support her in the January floor vote, their offices confirmed. The others did not return requests for comment.

At the leadership news conference Wednesday, Pelosi did not address the dynamics of the coming floor vote, but said she was grateful for her colleagues’ support. “I was kind of emotional earlier because of some of the things that were said in nomination,” the California Democrat said.

The speaker also predicted that even with a narrow majority, her caucus would be united in the 117th Congress and would successfully pass legislation working in consultation with President-elect Joe Biden.

“I’m excited about the prospect,” Pelosi said. “And sometimes when there’s a smaller number, people see the urgency of listening to each other, respecting each other’s voice, because we all have to go down the path mostly together.”

Wednesday’s leadership election was held virtually, with Democrats gathered over a video call. The vote for assistant speaker was conducted using an encrypted application on members’ House-issued iPhones. The individual ballots were kept secret — a key feature of leadership races, as many members don’t like to publicly choose sides.

More to come

The leadership elections will continue Thursday with contested races for caucus vice chair and caucus leadership representative and an uncontested election for the four DPCC co-chairs. 

The contested race for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair will be decided the week after Thanksgiving. The freshman class is expected to elect their leadership representative that week as well. The caucus will also hold elections that week for three open committee chairmanships on Appropriations, Foreign Affairs and Agriculture.

Leadership elections are part of a traditional late November and early December series of party caucus organizational meetings. House Democrats have opted to hold their meetings virtually this year, while their Republican counterparts have been meeting in person.

In their first virtual organizational meeting Tuesday, House Democrats tested the voting application they’d be using for the leadership elections with a question asking who was the greatest musician of all time. The four choices were Selena, Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen and Bono.

“Selena finished a strong fourth, Bono a close third. The Boss finished second,” Jeffries told reporters after the meeting.  “And with more than 50 percent of the vote, the queen of soul, Aretha Franklin.”

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