Democratic House Leaders Dance Around The Succession Issue

Facing an uphill battle to retain their majority just four years after taking it back, House Democratic leaders have a public answer to the question of what’s next: We’re focused on winning the midterms.

But there is a long-standing concern about whether House Democrats are neglecting to build a “bench” of potential successors. There is a tension in the party rooted in the long tenure of current leaders, a history of potential successors leaving the House and grassroots fears that the current team is increasingly out of touch.

The triumvirate of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Whip Jim Clyburn (SC) has led the party since 2007. With an average age of 82, they have held power since of the last two years of the George W. Bush administration, during the lean years when they lost their majority under Barack Obama and when Democrats regained power after the 2018 legislatures.

In 2018, about to reclaim the speaker’s gavel, Pelosi she sometimes referred to herself as a “transitional” figure.without ever defining when this transition would occur.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) was once seen as potential leadership material, until he ran for and won one of Maryland’s Senate seats. Similarly, Xavier Becerra, now the secretary of Health and Human Services, once appeared in upper management, until he left Congress to become California’s attorney general and then was picked by President Joe Biden to run the HHS.

Nervousness about the leadership’s future plans was on display at Pelosi’s final weekly pre-election press conference, where she he replied impatiently to a question about Rep. Abigail Spanberger (Va.), who criticized Democratic leaders for their handling of a proposed ban on lawmakers owning individual stocks and said it was time for new leaders.

“What question do you want me to answer? Pick one,” Pelosi told reporters when asked about Spanberger’s statement.

“Do you intend to be here in the new Congress as Speaker, as Minority Leader?” asked the reporter.

“I’m strictly focused on winning the next election. Do you want to talk about that? OK, that’s your question? Who’s next?” Pelosi responded, before turning to the specifics of the ban-stock law.

A similar scene unfolded with Hoyer, when he answered reporters’ questions about the Democrats’ midterm outlook. Asked what the leadership would look like next year, Hoyer said it was “silly” to speculate now.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is shown here with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Whip Jim Clyburn (DSC) at a news conference in 2021. The average d The age of the first three leaders of the Democratic House is 82 years.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is shown here with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Whip Jim Clyburn (DSC) at a news conference in 2021. The average d The age of the first three leaders of the Democratic House is 82 years.

The Washington Post via Getty Images

“I will talk to you on the 9th [of November]”, he said, referring to the day after half-term. “Are people speculating? If they are But let’s find out what happens on November 8.”

If the current leadership trio holds, the most likely to lose would be Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (NY), currently the fifth Democrat to serve as Caucus chairman, who is seen as a smart, telegenic upstart. But there are others who could also be leaning toward a high spot, including Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.).

And then there’s the 101-member Congressional Progressive Caucuswho has often acted as the political center of gravity for the Democratic caucus since returning to the House in 2018.

The group’s president, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), told reporters Monday that she is considering running for a leadership position in the next Congress, but did not specify which one.

“I think it’s important to say that everybody who’s been in leadership has obviously been doing a tremendous service and who knows what’s going to happen,” Jayapal, 57, told reporters on a conference call. He said that if he could help the party by being in “one of the most important leadership positions”, he would.

“I’m definitely looking at it, but obviously there are a lot of uncertainties and we’ll just have to see,” Jayapal said.

“I’m definitely looking at it, but obviously there’s a lot of uncertainty and we’ll just have to see.”

– Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, on the possibility of running for a House Democratic leadership post

In the same period of time that 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 his current leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (California).

Although McCarthy has taunted Democrats by preaching that Pelosi will be the first speaker to lose the House majority twice, Pelosi is keenly aware of her importance as first lady.

On Tuesday, in an appearance on his late-night talk show, 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 one day it will be exciting to see two men up here and a woman up there giving the State of the Union at some point?” Colbert asked.

Pelosi smiled and held up three fingers to the cheering crowd and gave a response that may or may not have implications for her future plans: “How about three women?”

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