In a normal post-election process after a big loss, the party that lost its House majority would shed its previous leader and either look to previous leadership for a move upward or get fresh blood at the top. Democrats have apparently chosen the worst of both worlds. Nancy Pelosi’s decision to remain in control of the caucus has now forced a game of musical chairs that threatens to split the caucus, as both Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn want the #2 slot:
The fallout of Nancy Pelosi’s decision to stay in power — and her failure so far to engineer a smooth transition for her lieutenants — continued to ripple through the Democratic Caucus over the weekend as Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina battled for the votes needed to become minority whip.
Hoyer’s allies said early Sunday that their man is poised for victory and is ready to identify a new batch of supporters from a broad cross section within the Democratic Caucus.
At the same time, during an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Clyburn left open the possibility that there might be a broader deal that would leave both he and Hoyer in the leadership.
But Clyburn’s camp is also privately telling members that he’s on the verge of locking down the votes he needs to win.
Pelosi apparently tried to get Clyburn to accept the only other leadership position remaining, the caucus chair, currently held by John Larson of Connecticut. Clyburn refused to accept a “demotion,” however, even though the entire leadership structure just got “demoted” by the voters. Instead, Clyburn began campaigning with the remainder of the caucus from the 111th Session to displace Hoyer from his current #2 position, which has forced Hoyer to participate in the infighting to hold onto any leadership post at all.
Actually, Clyburn might have been well positioned to fight for the top spot, especially among the progressives that more or less survived the Republican teanami on Tuesday. Hoyer is seen as more moderate in both policy and tone, while Clyburn offers members the same progressive agenda of Pelosi with a brand-new face for voters. In a fight between the two for a top spot, the minority whip position would have easily been handled as a consolation prize that would keep both in Democratic leadership, while Pelosi exited and removed the millstone she represented in the midterm elections from around their necks.
Instead, Pelosi’s efforts to keep her grip on power have created a potentially nasty and divisive fight over the crumbs left to Democrats after their midterm collapse. Maybe Democrats ought to keep that me-first agenda in mind when they decide whether they want Pelosi to lead them into another election in two years, and into battle with Republicans in the next Congress.