Overshadowed by the House Republicans’ ongoing leadership kerfuffle, Democrats in the chamber are grappling with their own question about leadership next year. While most assume the No. 4 Democrat will be South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, incoming Vice Chairman of the Democratic Caucus Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., is calling that into question.
A powerful veteran lawmaker with 30 years of experience, Clyburn is a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus and will assume the assistant leader position in the next Congress.
According to The Hill, the vice chair has always ranked just below the caucus chair, so, if the caucus chair in the 118th Congress will hold the No. 3 position, it would follow that the vice chair would be No. 4.
Settling the debate definitively is complicated by the Democrats’ looming minority status, which cut a seat from their leadership team, and by a confusing rearrangement of the hierarchy that took place in the wake of the midterm elections in November.
The caucus chair seat was the No. 4 spot — below minority leader, Democratic whip and assistant leader — the last time the Democrats were in the minority, but that chain of command was modified after Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., the new caucus chair, took the No. 3 position after the midterms.
The promotion was intended to keep the incoming leadership triad of Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Aguilar intact to replace the longstanding Democrat leadership team of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Clyburn.
While Pelosi and Hoyer have stepped down from leadership roles, Clyburn ran successfully to retain a position within party leadership, catching many Democrats by surprise and causing a chain reaction that could be felt up and down the leadership line.
According to The Hill, it forced Aguilar, who was initially considering the assistant leader position, to seek the caucus chair spot instead and caused Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., who had already thrown his hat in the ring for the caucus chairmanship, to seek a new role within the Democrats’ messaging arm instead of run against Aguilar.
The hierarchy beneath Jeffries, Clark and Aguilar was seemingly lost in the shuffle, having never been explicitly stated, and internal caucus rules do not list any specific order for the various leadership positions, though the rankings of each seat have been widely thought to be reflected in the order of the deciding elections, according to The Hill.
Clyburn was not in Washington on the day that Jeffries, Clark, Aguilar and Lieu were elected, however, and returned the next day to secure his assistant leader spot uncontested, after challenger David Cicilline, D-R.I., withdrew his candidacy.
When asked about the leadership pecking order, Lieu showed a reporter a picture of a press conference earlier this month featuring the incoming leadership team of Jeffries, Clark, Aguilar and himself.
“Here, see?” Lieu said. “Other than that, I have no idea.”
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