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Democrats complain about stale House leadership


Some House Democrats are grumbling over the party’s leadership, suggesting it’s too old and stagnant in an era when women and minorities are carrying the party.

Nobody has stepped forward yet to challenge Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi for speaker in the new Congress, nor are there any challengers for Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, who’s in line to become majority leader.

But Rep. James Clyburn, running for the third-ranking whip position, does face a challenge from Rep. Diana DeGette, who said women need a more prominent role at the party’s top.

The problem is she’s gunning for Mr. Clyburn, who is black, at a time when black Democrats say they need more power within the leadership and in Congress. Both Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Hoyer, as well as Ms. DeGette, are white.

Rep. Cedric Richmond, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in a recent letter to colleagues that he applauds the current leadership team’s efforts to push the party agenda.

“However, our celebration of diversity as a strategic imperative and strength of the Democratic Party and the application of equitable value to the roles that CBC members play in our caucus’s effort remain inconsistent with our most powerful leadership roles,” he said.

Part of the problem is that the party’s top leadership has been unchanged for years.

Mrs. Pelosi has served as their chief since 2002, and Mr. Hoyer has been her top lieutenant since then. Mr. Clyburn became the No. 3 Democrat in 2006. When the party lost the majority in the House after the 2010 election, it created a new position to keep the triumvirate intact.

Now there’s a move afoot to turn to a new generation of leaders.

Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, who mounted a heartland populist-style challenge to Mrs. Pelosi two years ago, says he doesn’t intend to run again, but said he’d like to see a battle.

“I think asking new members who just campaigned for new leadership to come in and cast a vote for the status quo — that’s not why they got elected and I think that jeopardizes the future of our majority going into 2020,” Mr. Ryan said on MSNBC.

Mrs. Pelosi formally launched her bid for speaker this week, writing personalized letters to returning Democrats and newly elected candidates who will decide her fate. But she’ll have to win over at least some of the dozens who either told their constituents they would oppose Mrs. Pelosi or who refused to commit publicly one way or another.

As the first woman to win the speakership, in 2007, she’s already made history, and no less than President Trump says Mrs. Pelosi has earned the gavel back.

Yet, Mr. Richmond said in his letter earlier this month that CBC members wanted to see a black member in one of the top two House leadership positions. He later clarified to CNN that would apply only if a vacancy arose, and that the caucus could get behind the continued Pelosi-Hoyer-Clyburn leadership team.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who some have hoped could be the first black House speaker, on Thursday announced he’ll run for House Democratic caucus chair, a lower post.

“Our racial, religious, gender, ideological, sexual orientation and regional diversity is a great strength,” the New York Democrat said in a letter to colleagues. “However, it can only be unleashed if committees are fully empowered to work their will and a panoply of perspectives, experiences and ideas are embraced and harmonized.”

Rep. Linda Sanchez had said she would run for caucus chair, but abruptly withdrew her name from consideration Thursday, citing an “unexpected family matter.” Her husband, James Sullivan, was one of five individuals indicted this week on conspiracy and theft charges tied to a public energy company in Connecticut that has received federal funding.

A federal grand jury in New Haven returned the indictments Tuesday — Election Day — and the five defendants pleaded not guilty Thursday.

For the moment, that leaves Mr. Richmond and Rep. Barbara Lee of California, another black member, as the two contenders.

In announcing her challenge to Mr. Clyburn, Ms. DeGette said Democrats’ return to the majority was powered by women voters “and we need to repay their trust by adding women to Democrats’ leadership team.”

“As we add even more women to our ranks in Congress — largely because of Democratic candidates — our caucus should reflect this strength, including at the leadership table,” she said in a letter to her colleagues.

Rep. Suzan DelBene, Washington Democrat, also pointed to the party’s winning coalition this year when she told colleagues this week that she will run to be the next chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), House Democrats’ campaign arm.

“Democrats have won back the House with the support of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community,” Ms. DelBene wrote. “These Americans are under attack by President Trump and his allies, and Democrats must empower them.”

But GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia, who lost to Democrat Jennifer Wexton on Tuesday, said Democrats routinely play identity politics with the candidates they try to bring down as well, saying sexism has played a role in her status as a perennial top target for Democrats.

“Look at who the Democrats target,” she said in an interview last week. “They target women and minority Republicans because we end up having different faces for the party.”

Beyond herself, Ms. Comstock named Reps. Mia Love of Utah and Carlos Curbelo of Florida — both of whom lost Tuesday — as a few of Democrats’ top targets this cycle. Ms. Love is the only female Republican member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Mr. Curbelo, meanwhile, is Hispanic — but Democrats in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus refused to admit him last year.

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