Over the weekend, I wondered whether Nancy Pelosi’s solution to the leadership fight between Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn — but really caused by herself — would mollify the Congressional Black Caucus. As of last night, the answer appears to be a resounding no. While the CBC says it supports Clyburn for “the number three position,” the group pointedly refused to endorse Pelosi for the top position until Pelosi explains exactly what Clyburn’s authority and power will actually be in the new make-work position of “assistant leader” (via Instapundit):
The Congressional Black Caucus has decided to withhold its approval for the House Democratic leadership team, denying Speaker Nancy Pelosi full support of the 42-member organization as she campaigns to remain leader.
After a nearly two hour long meeting on Monday night, chairwoman Barbara Lee of California said the group only will endorse caucus member James Clyburn of South Carolina for a leadership position. The causus first wants to know what his role will be in the Democratic leadership before backing the full slate.
“We fully support our current Whip, Mr. Clyburn, for the number three position and we are currently reserving judgment on the entire package until we see what the actual portfolio entails, in terms of responsibilities,” Lee said.
In other words, the CBC called Pelosi’s bluff. They don’t want a spot on the leadership team just to find out it’s a figurehead position. When working as Majority Whip, Clyburn had actual authority and leverage. The new “assistant leader” position sounds as useful as the Vice President of the United States (or at least its current occupant, rather than his two predecessors), except that Clyburn would still be two heartbeats away from the top spot.
If the CBC withholds its support for Pelosi, it’s doubtful she can win as leader. Worse, it gives Democrats who may have felt too intimidated to publicly oppose her some leeway now to take a stand. The only element lacking at the moment would be a legitimate challenge from the caucus for the top spot.
Under the circumstances, though, Steny Hoyer could make a play for it, if he has the gumption to try. He could promise the #2 spot to Clyburn and get the backing of the CBC, and that would push Pelosi out altogether. If he tries it, then Pelosi would probably try backing Clyburn for #2 as well, which would make this fight over the top spot, where it should have been all along.