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House Leadership

Centrists Huddle Over Pelosi Move

Whip contest may leave one Dem bloc out.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., talks about accomplishments of the 111th Congress while flanked on her right by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and, on her left, House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Updated at 9:05 a.m. on November 8.

Moderate House Democrats, already reeling from Tuesday’s election, are urgently consulting with each other this weekend after Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement Friday she will run for minority leader raised the prospect that they will lose a voice in leadership.

 

Without the speaker’s gavel next year, Pelosi’s move means that one of the Democrats' leaders, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., or Minority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., is odd man out.

Clyburn spoke to both Hoyer and Pelosi on Saturday, a spokesman said. Appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday, Clyburn said he was simply running to keep his current position as the Democrats’ top vote-counter.

"I am currently the Democratic whip. What I announced is that I'm running for that position again,” Clyburn told host Bob Schieffer. "We'll see how that works out."

 

The centrist Blue Dog Coalition and others on Hoyer's side, or members of the Congressional Black Caucus backing Clyburn, could be left without a prominent voice in Democratic leadership. Through allies, Hoyer and Clyburn say they have wide appeal in the caucus. When gaining the majority in 2006, the party gave diligent attention to balancing the needs of a diverse caucus.

For his part, Clyburn made clear that his reputation as a liberal may be a bit overblown. He said Sunday on CBS that such a perception of him may be influenced by “some assumptions because of the way that I look.” Clyburn is African-American.

Clyburn also endorsed Pelosi for minority leader, as did Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., in a separate appearance on CNN’s State of the Union. Van Hollen, who is giving up his position but may run for another leadership spot, declined to reveal whether he would support Hoyer or Clyburn for whip, however. “They both know who I’m supporting,” Van Hollen said.

Van Hollen added that Tuesday’s electoral rout cannot be laid at Pelosi’s feet. “On Tuesday, this was a lot bigger than Nancy Pelosi,” he said.

 

For the election-diminished number of centrist Democrats, most of whom are Blue Dogs, Pelosi’s decision to stick around was upsetting enough, because they see Tuesday’s results as stark evidence of the need for change at the top.

Many favored Hoyer as her successor. They had already begun preparing for a chance of Pelosi’s retirement, and believed they had enough votes for Hoyer if Pelosi left.

If Hoyer decides to jump into the whip race, what House Democrats could face in the days leading up to party elections the week of November 15 is a potentially bruising fight, one that could open up ideological and racial antagonisms within the party.

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The potential loss of a leadership voice is a key concern for Blue Dogs, who believe that they need a moderate in leadership if they hope to regain the House or pick up seats in 2012, a Democrat involved in those talks said. The source said that Pelosi will have to have a way to win in 2012 and that she has to do something to pacify moderates.

While Blue Dogs’ loss of half their members Tuesday likely means that neither Hoyer or another member could choose to successfully challenge Pelosi in the leadership elections, members are looking for someone who can make a “strong” run, the source said.

Hoyer appears to be gearing up for the whip run by arguing that his strength goes beyond Blue Dogs into progressive ranks, a senior Democratic aide said. In a statement Friday Hoyer said he is consulting colleagues this weekend.

Hoyer will argue that he has worked with Pelosi to unify the caucus and that the unity would be jeopardized if they aren't both in leadership positions, the aide said.

Moderates such as Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., -- the longest-serving House member, who remains influential still despite the loss of his Energy and Commerce gavel in 2008 -- will back Hoyer, sources said.

Liberal Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif. endorsed Hoyer as well. “Steny's diligence and hard work has earned him the trust of all parts of our caucus and as whip will ensure that we remain unified going forward,” she said.

But a key question will be whether Pelosi backs Clyburn, or even whether the mechanics of the internal party elections have already been scripted in his favor.

Though Pelosi’s Friday announcement was followed quickly by Clyburn announcing a run for minority whip, aides to both vehemently denied coordination after some Democrats suggested an implicit deal where the two delivered support for each other.

Aides have not specified what he is considering, but one job might be that of Democratic caucus chairman. But such a run could set up a battle with the current chairman, Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., who announced Friday he will run to remain in that job. Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., has said he will seeking reelection as caucus vice chair.

Potential DCCC chairs, a job determined by Pelosi if she remains Leader, include Reps. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., and Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, D-Fla., House aides said.

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