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Jeffries gets bigger role in picking House Democrats’ campaign chief

Party also votes to give battleground members a leadership spot

Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif, is vying to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif, is vying to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democrats voted Wednesday to change how the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair position is filled, giving the caucus leader a chance to nominate the head of its campaign arm. 

That change means House Democrats won’t vote this week on who will next serve in the role as had been expected. Reps. Ami Bera and Tony Cárdenas, both Californians, have been campaigning for the role. Now, New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who was elected as the next minority leader by unanimous consent earlier Wednesday, will nominate someone to be the DCCC chair, which the caucus would then vote to approve.

Someone could challenge that nomination if they are nominated by at least five members, under the  rule, which was passed by a 166-38 vote. Jeffries would have to nominate a chair no later than Feb. 15 under the rule, but action could come sooner.

While Bera and Cárdenas have both been campaigning for the role with the expectation that it would be an elected position, Jeffries could also nominate someone who hadn’t been seeking the job. Jeffries has not indicated who he would nominate or when he would do so. 

“The leader does the most work in getting or keeping the majority,” said Rep. Mark Pocan, who co-sponsored the proposed change. “Pick the person that’s the best complement.” 

This approach has worked better and leads to more accountability, Pocan said. 

“Right now there’s very much a scenario where the chair can point to the leader, the leader can point to the chair, and you have no one person who’s accountable, and quite honestly that’s happened,” he added. “This way you have one person who’s ultimately accountable and it just seems to be better for members when you have that.”

Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said the DCCC chair needs to be in sync with the party’s leader to be most effective.

“If you’re the DCCC, you’ve got to make some tough, hard decisions, and if you’re talking to your voters, i.e., the members who elected you, it’s very tough to make the decision,” Hoyer said. “And the speaker, or the leader, is presumed to be the person making the decisions anyway.”

The change comes after Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney lost his reelection bid while chairing the DCCC this cycle. The previous DCCC chair, Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, won a tight race in 2020. 

Bera had been neutral on the proposal and said he didn’t know when Jeffries would make an announcement, but said there’s “some urgency” to filling the role after Republicans chose North Carolina Rep. Richard Hudson to chair the National Republican Congressional Committee on Nov. 15

“They’re hiring, they’re getting ready to go. And we’ve got some real strong talent in the DCCC that helped us have a really good election. Obviously we want to retain some of that talent,” Bera said Wednesday ahead of the vote. 

“I do think with the new leadership team coming in, I think it’s important that they have someone who’s  reflective of their goals and values,” he added. 

Bera led the DCCC “Frontliners” program for vulnerable incumbents this cycle, while Cárdenas previously led the Congressional Hispanic Caucus BOLD PAC. In separate letters announcing their plans to seek the position earlier this month, they both touted their fundraising abilities.

Bera has told colleagues that he has won in competitive districts and that his district is now a safe Democratic seat. He also touted his work with the DCCC, which saw a better-than-expected year, despite losing the House majority.

Cárdenas, meanwhile, has focused on how BOLD PAC grew under his leadership.

“Through tactical planning and a deliberate, inclusive approach, we transformed BOLD PAC into the political powerhouse that exists today. Our strategy was simple: invest early and strategically — and bring the same level of enthusiastic grit to every district and community,” he wrote in a letter this month.

Battleground seat in leadership

Democrats also voted to create a new position of battleground leadership representative, which was proposed by Nevada Rep. Susie Lee. Frontliners at the end of the election cycle and “Red to Blue” candidates, whether they were designated into that program or flipped a GOP-held seat, will elect that person on Tuesday, Lee said.

“When you expand the leadership to include all different aspects and all different types of districts, we come up with better policy,” Lee said. “It’s really about giving a seat at the table to someone who represents people in the most embattled districts … who are responsible for flipping Republican voters blue, who are out there on the road, who are under razor-thin majorities. So it’s really about making sure we have a seat at the table when decisions are being made.”

Pennsylvania Rep. Matt Cartwright has said he would seek the position. Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger is also running.

“In this role, I will consistently work to productively bring to Democratic Leadership our perspectives, our strategic advice, and our understanding of timing,” Spanberger wrote in a letter dated Tuesday to battleground members. “I would also seek to raise flags when we see in our districts the early trial balloons of new messages and lines of attack and raise with Leadership the priorities that are important to you as you advocate for your constituents’ needs.”

‘Chair of chairs’ returns

Democrats also approved a rule change restoring a so-called chair of chairs position to the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, the caucus messaging arm.

The structure of the DPCC has changed several times since it first became an elected leadership position in 2016 with three co-chairs instead of one appointed chair. In 2018, Democrats added a chair position to oversee the co-chairs, but they got rid of it in 2020 and changed the number of co-chairs to four. On Wednesday the caucus voted to restore the the chair position and go back to three co-chairs.

The only person running for DPCC chair is Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse. The rule change was initiated so he could drop his bid for Democratic Caucus chair and California Rep. Pete Aguilar could run unopposed for that spot. Seven Democrats are running for the three co-chair spots.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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