Facing an uphill battle to retain their majority just four years after regaining it, House Democratic leaders have a pat public answer to the question of what’s next for them: We’re focused on winning the mid-term.
But there’s been a longstanding concern about whether House Democrats are neglecting to build a “bench” of potential successors. There is a tension in the party that is rooted in the long tenure of the current leaders, a history of potential successors leaving the House and the base fearing that the current team is increasingly out of touch.
The triumvirate of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (California), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), and Whip Jim Clyburn (SC) has led the party since 2007. With an average age of 82, they have been in power since the last two years of the George W. Bush administration, during the lean years when they lost a majority under Barack Obama and when the Democrats regained power after the 2018 midterm elections .
In 2018, set to take over the speaker’s gavel, Pelosi sometimes referred to herself as a “transitional” figurewithout ever defining when this transition would occur.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) was once considered potential leadership material — until he ran and won one of Maryland’s Senate seats. Likewise, Xavier Becerra, now Secretary of Health and Human Services, once appeared on the path to senior leadership — until he left Congress to become California’s attorney general, then was chosen by the President Joe Biden to lead the HHS.
Nervousness over management’s future plans was on display at Pelosi’s final weekly pre-election press conference, where she eagerly answered to a question about Rep. Abigail Spanberger (Virginia), who slammed Democratic leaders for their handling of a proposed ban on lawmakers holding individual stocks and said it’s time for new leaders.
“What question do you want me to answer? Pick one,” Pelosi told the reporter when asked about Spanberger’s statement.
“Do you intend to be here in the new Congress as president, as minority leader?” asked the reporter.
“I am strictly focused on winning the next election. Do you want to talk about it? Alright, is that your question? Who’s next?” Pelosi replied, before turning to the specifics of the stock ban bill.
A similar scene unfolded with Hoyer, as he fielded questions from reporters on the Democrats’ midterm outlook. When asked what leadership will look like next year, Hoyer said it was “foolish” to speculate now.
“I will talk to you on the 9th [of November]”, he said, referring to the aftermath of the midterm exams. “Are people speculating? Yes, they are. But let’s find out what will happen on November 8th.
If the current leadership trio remains, the most likely loser would be Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (NY), currently the fifth Democrat as caucus chair, who is seen as a smart and telegenic prospect. But there are others who could also be aiming for a high position, including Rep. Adam Schiff (California).
And then there is the 101-member Congressional Progressive Caucuswho has often served as the Democratic caucus’ political center of gravity since he took over the House in 2018.
The group’s chairwoman, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), told reporters Monday that she plans to run for a leadership position at the next Congress, but did not specify which one.
“I think it’s important to say that everyone who’s been in charge has obviously done a huge service and who knows what’s going to happen,” Jayapal, 57, told reporters on a conference call. . She said if she could help the party by occupying “one of the highest leadership positions” she would.
“I’m watching that, but obviously a lot of things are uncertain and we’ll just have to see,” Jayapal said.
“I’m definitely looking at that, but obviously a lot of things are uncertain and we’ll just have to see.”
— Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., on the possibility of running for a Democratic leadership spot in the House
In the same time frame the Pelosi-Hoyer-Clyburn triumvirate has served, Republicans have gone through four different leaders: Reps. Denny Hastert (Ill.), John Boehner (Ohio), Paul Ryan (Wis.) and their current leader , Representative Kevin McCarthy (California).
While McCarthy has taunted Democrats by predicting that Pelosi will be the first female speaker to lose a House majority twice, Pelosi is acutely aware of her importance as the first female speaker.
During an appearance on his late-night talk show on Tuesday, the TV host Stephen Colbert asked him how exciting it was to sit behind the President during the annual State of the Union address, next to the first female Vice President in Kamala Harris.
“Would you also agree that it will be exciting one day to see two men here and a woman standing there giving the State of the Union someday?” Colbert asked.
Pelosi smiled and held up three fingers to the cheering crowd and gave an answer that may or may not have implications for his future plans: “How about three women?