DeGette Starts Building Support for a Democratic Whip Bid

The Colorado lawmaker hopes to run for the No. 3 leadership slot if the party wins the majority in November.

Rep. Diana DeGette
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
July 12, 2018, 8 p.m.

Rep. Diana DeGette has begun asking her colleagues for support in a budding campaign to be House Democratic whip, according to sources in the chamber.

Though it is hardly a challenge to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s reign, DeGette’s campaign is the latest clear sign that Democrats have begun to look past the November elections and, more notably, past their top three septuagenarian Democratic leaders, who have held power for more than a decade.

Currently, Rep. Steny Hoyer holds the whip position. DeGette’s campaign is based on the supposition that Democrats win back the House in November. In that case, Pelosi and Hoyer would seek to move back up to speaker and majority leader, respectively. Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn would be in line to be whip, a position he held when Democrats were last in the majority.

Democrats may have cause to doubt that DeGette would follow through on her bid, however: She seriously considered running against Clyburn for the post when Democrats gained control of the House in 2007 but decided against it, citing the disruptiveness of an internal leadership struggle.

Clyburn appointed her as a chief deputy whip, a post she has continued to hold when Hoyer took control of the whip operation as Democrats moved back into the minority.

Besting Clyburn would be a high bar, since he is well-liked in the conference and represents the powerful Congressional Black Caucus at the leadership table. The Caucus would not take kindly to a diminished role in party leadership, although CBC member Barbara Lee is running for Conference chairwoman against Vice Chairwoman Linda Sanchez.

Still, it is possible that a Democratic House win could instigate a full leadership shake-up or that Clyburn doesn’t decide to move up, in which case DeGette would be well positioned to advance. And if Democrats lose the House, the campaign could be even more viable. Clyburn himself has said that if Democrats fall short of their goal, a leadership change will be necessary.

“If we’re still in the minority” after Election Day, he told Politico in April, “all of us have got to go.”

If such a shake-up occurs, any number of Democrats could be interested in moving up. Rep. Tim Ryan challenged Pelosi in 2016, winning about a third of the caucus, and he has said he would consider running again. Politico reported that Rep. Ben Ray Luján, the current Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, is interested in the whip position if Democrats win the majority. Several other members from different wings of the caucus could also decide to jump in.

DeGette declined to comment for this story except to say, “What I’m really focused on is winning the House in November.”

Her spokeswoman, however, did not deny that the seeds of a campaign are being planted.

“She’s been interested in this role for several years … and that hasn’t changed,” said DeGette’s communications director, Lynne Weil. “As this fall develops, she’ll continue to look at it.”

Indeed, DeGette once said in an interview for her Almanac of American Politics profile: "If the opportunity arose, I would love to be whip.

"I love to whip!" she continued.

DeGette is known as one of the most energetic members of the whip team and has long been talked about as a potential future leader for Democrats. After then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel left his post as House Democratic Caucus chairman to become President Obama’s chief of staff in 2008, DeGette was asked to run for the conference vice chairmanship. She declined, however, noting, “I don’t really want to be the chairman of the caucus. … I really want to be the whip,” according to 5280 magazine.

She has made a name for herself, back to her days in the Colorado statehouse, as a staunch defender of abortion rights and stem-cell research. From her perch as a senior member of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, she has proven her bipartisan bona fides by working across the aisle on health care issues, such as food safety and biomedical research.

DeGette represents a solidly Democratic district and has a modest leadership PAC that has donated to needy Democrats as well as the DCCC.

Still, the 60-year-old, 11-term incumbent is hardly a fresh face on the Hill, and it remains to be seen how much the progressive and youth movements in the party will shape Democratic leadership elections.

DeGette recently fended off a primary challenge from progressive Saira Rao, who ran a campaign similar to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s successful challenge against Democratic Congressional Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley. Rao criticized DeGette for accepting corporate PAC money, and she was supported by the Justice Democrats, a group that has tried to topple incumbent Democrats across the country.

Rao ran as an outsider, but DeGette used her own experience as an asset, noting that she would become chairwoman of the Energy and Commerce Oversight Subcommittee if Democrats win back the House and pledging to subpoena then-Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt. If elected whip, she would not serve on the committee but would undoubtedly help shape the Democratic agenda.

In 2001, DeGette supported Hoyer as party leader over Pelosi, but Pelosi and DeGette have since mended fences; Pelosi headlined a primary fundraiser for her earlier this year and has worked with her on abortion-rights issues, even appointing her to the special committee Republicans created to investigate Planned Parenthood.

What We're Following See More »
Kelly Craft Nominated for UN Post
9 hours ago
Trump Signs Border Deal
1 weeks ago

"President Trump signed a sweeping spending bill Friday afternoon, averting another partial government shutdown. The action came after Trump had declared a national emergency in a move designed to circumvent Congress and build additional barriers at the southern border, where he said the United States faces 'an invasion of our country.'"

Trump Declares National Emergency
1 weeks ago

"President Donald Trump on Friday declared a state of emergency on the southern border and immediately direct $8 billion to construct or repair as many as 234 miles of a border barrier. The move — which is sure to invite vigorous legal challenges from activists and government officials — comes after Trump failed to get the $5.7 billion he was seeking from lawmakers. Instead, Trump agreed to sign a deal that included just $1.375 for border security."

House Will Condemn Emergency Declaration
1 weeks ago

"House Democrats are gearing up to pass a joint resolution disapproving of President Trump’s emergency declaration to build his U.S.-Mexico border wall, a move that will force Senate Republicans to vote on a contentious issue that divides their party. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said Thursday evening in an interview with The Washington Post that the House would take up the resolution in the coming days or weeks. The measure is expected to easily clear the Democratic-led House, and because it would be privileged, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would be forced to put the resolution to a vote that he could lose."

Where Will the Emergency Money Come From?
1 weeks ago

"ABC News has learned the president plans to announce on Friday his intention to spend about $8 billion on the border wall with a mix of spending from Congressional appropriations approved Thursday night, executive action and an emergency declaration. A senior White House official familiar with the plan told ABC News that $1.375 billion would come from the spending bill Congress passed Thursday; $600 million would come from the Treasury Department's drug forfeiture fund; $2.5 billion would come from the Pentagon's drug interdiction program; and through an emergency declaration: $3.5 billion from the Pentagon's military construction budget."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.