Longtime House leaders return to Democratic rank-and-file

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House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi <i>Susan Walsh/AP</i>

Longtime House leaders return to Democratic rank-and-file

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The top two House Democrats are giving up their leadership posts. But they’re not going far.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) will lose their current leadership posts anyway when Republicans take over the majority on Jan. 3, 2023, with the opening of the 118th Congress. But they could have sought the party’s highest-ranking leadership posts in the minority.

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Instead, Pelosi and Hoyer are going back to being rank-and-file members of the House Democratic Caucus, while the current third-ranking lawmaker, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC), is staying in leadership at a slightly lower level. On Dec. 1, Clyburn won the post of assistant leader, brushing back a last-minute challenge from Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), who argued for the importance of LGBT representation in Democratic leadership. Cicilline also cited his colleagues’ desire for “greater coordination and improved communication” from the role. But finding little support to oust Clyburn, an elder statesman and revered figure among House Democrats, Cicilline dropped his challenge.

That sets up an unprecedented dynamic for the incoming House Democratic leadership team: soon-to-be House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), House Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-MA), and Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar (D-CA). The more senior set of Democratic leaders — Pelosi is 82, Hoyer is 83, and Clyburn is 82 — will continue to walk through the halls of Congress with the privileges of membership like any other lawmaker.

All the while, Jeffries, Clark, and Aguilar will try to put their own stamp on leadership. Their aim is to win back control of the House in 2024. That’s a plausible goal since Republicans will hold only a 222-213 majority, much smaller than pundits predicted during the 2022 midterm election season. And in the new Congress, there are slated to be 18 House Republicans in districts where, in 2020, President Joe Biden would have beaten former President Donald Trump, compared to just five House Democrats in Trump-majority vote seats.

Pelosi, Hoyer, and Clyburn have been a leadership team since Democrats in 2006 first won back the House majority after 12 years in the political wilderness. Each has their own reasons for staying after decades in office, which in the case of Pelosi and Hoyer goes back to President Ronald Reagan’s 1980s-era White House tenure.

For Pelosi, it’s her second time sticking around in a way after being deposed from the speakership. After House Republicans won back the House majority in 2010, Pelosi returned to being minority leader, the same post she’d held from 2007 to 2011. It took eight years, but House Democrats, under her leadership, eventually reclaimed the majority, which lasted for four years.

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With Pelosi’s leadership career about to end, the congresswoman from San Francisco, who was first elected in a June 1987 special election, hasn’t said how long she’ll stay in office. Like Hoyer and Clyburn, Pelosi has a safely blue seat. But it’s one she may try to hand off to her politically active and visible daughter, attorney and Democratic operative Christine Pelosi. That could mean resigning mid-term to trigger a special election at a time deemed most advantageous to the political fortunes of the younger Pelosi, announcing retirement from the House ahead of the regularly scheduled 2024 elections, or making a move later.

For now, House Democrats are giving a soft landing of sorts to Pelosi, whom they credit in her combined eight years as House speaker for championing policies put forward by Democratic Presidents Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Pelosi also was a fierce opponent of Republican President George W. Bush and particularly Donald Trump, whom she openly held contempt for.

House Democrats plan to give Pelosi the honorific title of “speaker emerita” and designate a House Cannon Building meeting space as the “Speaker Nancy Pelosi Caucus Room.’’

Pelosi’s departure from House leadership has garnered the most attention, but Hoyer’s return to rank-and-file lawmaker also is significant. Hoyer, who represents a district in the outer Washington suburbs of Prince George’s County and southern Maryland, first won his House seat in a May 1981 special election. He has been a member of the House Democratic leadership since 1989, when his party held a commanding House majority.

Hoyer says he is returning to the House panel he spent much of his pre-leadership congressional career in: the House Appropriations Committee. Hoyer previously used his senior Appropriations Committee perch to steer federal spending projects toward his district.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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