How much room is there at the congressional leadership table for Marylanders?
That question has been pondered both inside and outside the state in recent years, as Rep. Steny Hoyer remains the No. 2 leader among U.S. House Democrats — ready to move up whenever House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) decides to retire — and Rep. Chris Van Hollen awaits his own opportunity to climb the ladder.
But Hoyer, for his part, doesn’t ever expect to face his fellow Maryland Democrat in a leadership race, despite some speculation in the media that such an intrastate battle could materialize.
“I don’t think there’ll ever be a Van Hollen-Hoyer race,” Hoyer, 73, told reporters Friday at a lunch in Bowie. “Chris called me up when some of you guys wrote that story . . . and said: ‘Steny, I just saw that story. I’m for you. If Nancy leaves, I’m for you. And if Nancy doesn’t leave, I’m for you for whip.’”
Hoyer added: “The good news for Chris is he’s about 20 years younger than I am, and neither Chris nor I think I’m going to live forever. . . . So I don’t see any possible conflict between Chris and myself.”
Van Hollen is 54.
Hoyer has long aspired to the top job Pelosi’s job, although Pelosi has yet to signal when she might retire. Van Hollen, meanwhile, is believed by many Maryland Democrats to be waiting for the chance to succeed Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) whenever she leaves office.
But if a House leadership opportunity arises first, Van Hollen would probably jump at it. In the interim, the former head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has refashioned himself as a policy wonk, serving as the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
Hoyer even managed to make light of the idea of a leadership fight. At the end of the lunch, Hoyer’s phone rang and he pretended Van Hollen was on the other line.
“Chris, you are running against me?” Hoyer said, drawing laughter. “You just announced? Well I’ve got to retract what I just said.”