Congressional Black Caucus dissatisfied with Pelosi's job offer for Clyburn
Tuesday, November 16, 2010; 8:10 PM
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has forged a tentative deal in which she would remain the party's leader in the House when Democrats become the minority in the next Congress. Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) would take the No. 2 spot, and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (S.C.) would move down to the third-ranking position, which Pelosi has called "assistant leader."
Clyburn, a congressional veteran and member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), accepted the position and is discussing what his new role will entail. After meeting with other members of the CBC on Monday night, he told reporters, "We're still working on it."
Several caucus members have suggested that they will withhold their votes from Pelosi (Calif.) if more details are not provided about Clyburn's responsibilities or that the caucus could go along with a bloc of moderate Democrats in the Blue Dog caucus and vote to limit Pelosi's authority as minority leader.
"We had a full discussion about this, and we actually wanted to look at the portfolio that is being developed with Mr. Clyburn's input, and we wanted to see what that portfolio would be," said the CBC chairman, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), explaining the decision to withhold support for Pelosi's plan.
Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (D-N.Y.) said she is "reluctant to want to vote" for the party's leadership without more details and wants to make sure that Clyburn's new role is "not a marginal, ceremonial type of position."
Pelosi met with CBC members Tuesday night to discuss their concerns. Afterward, members of the caucus gave no indication that they felt differently than they did heading into the meeting, an aide said.
In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, Clyburn said he has encouraged caucus members to support Pelosi and believes the new structure is fair. "What we're doing is saying that everybody will maintain their relative position . . . so being number three allows that to happen. So there's nothing unusual about this," he said.
The 42-member caucus's decision could be a major roadblock for Pelosi.
Lee said CBC members want to meet directly with her and other party leaders to discuss the issue. Along with Clyburn's policy portfolio, those who follow the CBC want to know whether he will have staff, office space and security details, which are indicators of how important his position is. And caucus members are looking for a signal from Clyburn that he is satisfied with the scope of his new role before supporting the plan, aides said.
David Bositis, a senior research associate with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which follows the CBC, said the politicking is probably maneuvering for 2012. "If there's a clear understanding that, if the Democrats take back the House in two years, that Clyburn will return to his leadership position, who cares about the symbolic aspect of it?" Bositis asked. "None of them are in a position where they are going to be movers and shakers in the new Congress."