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House Democrats could have same leadership team despite 60-seat loss

By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 7, 2010; 8:05 PM

House Democratic leaders signaled a desire Sunday to avoid internal leadership battles in an effort to forge party unity, a move that would leave the same team in place that oversaw the worst political rout in 72 years.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said that efforts are underway to avert an ideological leadership campaign that would pit House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (S.C.) against each other for the position of minority whip.

Hoyer, 71, has been considered the leadership's bridge to conservative Democrats and Clyburn, 70, is the highest-ranking African American congressman ever. They spent the weekend making calls in an effort to secure enough votes for the No. 2 leadership post after the decision by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) to remain in power next year as minority leader.

"They're both going to be at the table, I'm absolutely convinced, in terms of helping provide guidance," Van Hollen, a Pelosi ally, said on CNN's "State of the Union," adding that some accommodation will be made to keep Hoyer and Clyburn in leadership positions. "I'm confident that the members of the caucus recognize that both gentlemen bring an enormous amount to the job, and we will work it out."

Soon to be out of power, House Democrats are trying to map out their future with one fewer spot among leaders because the hierarchy gives the majority an additional spot, based on who holds the speaker's gavel. With Pelosi, 70, still unchallenged, moderates who survived Tuesday's midterm elections desperately want to keep Hoyer's voice inside a leadership group that is otherwise dominated by liberals. The more than 40 members of the Congressional Black Caucus do not want Clyburn ejected, either.

Pelosi's leadership team faces what could be an equally problematic issue. Many rank-and-file Democrats are enraged about the loss of 60 or more seats. Some are also disenchanted with the leaders in their 70s who have served in the top three spots for the past five years, with Pelosi and Hoyer being Nos. 1 and 2 for the past eight years, according to interviews with lawmakers, top aides and outside advisers.

No next-generation lawmakers are ready to claim the mantle from the party's older guard, sources said, but the tension is palpable across all ideological ranks of House Democrats. That makes it a risky move to present the same leadership team to Democrats when they return to Washington next week for the lame-duck session.

Republicans, thinking that the election was a rejection of Pelosi's liberal agenda, are ecstatic about the prospect of her leadership team remaining intact.

"I don't think there is any question that this says to the voters, 'We're not listening to you. We think we're right and we're going to continue the same path,' " Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who will take the majority leader post in January, said on "Fox News Sunday."

Clyburn suggested that he is campaigning hard for minority whip, but he appeared open to some effort to reach detente.

"We'll get all this worked out in the coming days. And I suspect that it will be resolved in such a way that our caucus will be very satisfied with the leadership team going forward," he said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

One possibility is the everyone-move-down-a-slot compromise. That would mean that Hoyer would become minority whip and Clyburn would become caucus chairman, the No. 3 post in the minority, a job he held in 2006.

Rep. John B. Larson (Conn.) is currently caucus chairman and has announced plans to run for that post, and Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.) is running for the vice chairman slot, No. 5 in the leadership rank. Aides suggested that one of those two could receive an advisory spot in the leadership, similar to the role Pelosi gave Van Hollen as her special assistant.

For now, Hoyer and Clyburn are trying to rack up as many endorsements as possible for the most prestigious leadership spot left. The minority whip post comes with a large staff, office space on the third floor of the Capitol and a Capitol Police security detail that serves to drive the whip everywhere he goes. The caucus chairman receives none of those benefits.

Hoyer has an early lead, with 35 public endorsements in what is otherwise a secret ballot, including Reps. Robert A. Brady (Pa.) and Edward J. Markey (Mass.). He also is highlighting support from Pelosi's home-state delegation: Reps. Lois Capps, Bob Filner, John Garamendi and Linda T. Sanchez.

Clyburn, on "Face the Nation," noted that most of his campaign swings this year were to endangered incumbents who were members of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition.

Pelosi, who publicly backed an unsuccessful effort to defeat Hoyer after the 2006 midterm elections, has remained neutral in the whip's race. Several observers said this is because she is devoting her political capital to shoring up long-term support for her own hold on leadership.

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