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If you’re a political drama junkie, this weekend threatened an overdose, with a Democratic leadership contest threatening to tear the caucus apart, pitting the dwindling white southern bloc against African-American Democrats for a seat at the leadership table. Because we couldn’t wait until Monday night to chime in, this is a special edition of HUFFPOST HILL for Sunday, November 7, 2010:
A VERY BAD THING – One likely-to-back-Hoyer member summed up the affair to HuffPost Hill as, simply, “a very bad thing.” But hope is still alive. “I hope all three continue to be in the leadership, and that there is no contested race. A significant number of members would feel purged whoever won,” he said, echoing the sentiments of members who spent the weekend in denial, refusing to believe that either Steny Hoyer or James Clyburn could be squeezed out. “If Steny loses, and less progressive members are closed out of the leadership, I think it would be very bad for the caucus and the party. We’d have many more members openly, vocally disavowing the leadership.” The opposite result is to have no black members of House leadership.
THE DEAL IN THE WORKS – Both Clyburn and Hoyer are well-liked members of an extremely successful — legislatively, anyway — leadership team headed by Nancy Pelosi. The thinking had been that Hoyer would remain as the number two, dropping from majority leader to minority whip, and Clyburn would dip from majority whip to caucus chair. But Clyburn decided early, whether Pelosi decided to stay on or not, that he’d be making a bid for whip. Hoyer, in no mood for a demotion, is running hard to save his seat. All the talk assumes that Clyburn will take a deal that makes him caucus chair and gives Hoyer the top spot, leaving John Larson to flail in the wind. But the CW was also damn certain that Pelosi was retiring, so, well…
PELOSI STAYING NEUTRAL, SO FAR – A member who got a call from Pelosi, who’s still nailing down support for minority leader, pressed her on the whip election, he tells us, suggesting that something be worked out that keeps both at the table. Pelosi was non-committal. But her preference, say people who talk to HuffPost Hill on the weekend, is to have an orderly transition — an order that was disturbed when she decided on Friday to stick around. Clyburn told Pelosi on Thursday that he was running for whip regardless of what she decided.
HINCHEY FOR HOYER – Progressive Rep. Maurice Hinchey of New York called HuffPost Hill Special Edition on Sunday to say that he’s supporting Hoyer, citing his ability to bridge the caucus, raise money for Democrats and help win the majority back. He said he’s been on the phone with liberals for several days and thinks they’re headed Hoyer’s way. “I think that the tendency is in that direction, that most people seem to be in support of Hoyer on the basis of the understanding of the positive things that we’ve achieved in the last couple of years and how his leadership has been so effective in that context,” said Hinchey. If Hoyer were replaced by Clyburn, said Hinchey, “it would be very disappointing. People would be concerned and worried and they would be uncomfortable in the change.” He wants Clyburn in leadership, he said, just not in the number two spot. A Hoyer ally tells us that California Rep. Jackie Speier is also backing Hoyer. The second prong of the attack on Clyburn is that, you know what, he’s not that liberal after all. He said as much himself on “Face The Nation” this morning, saying that people who think he’s a liberal might be “making some assumptions because of the way that I look.” (That and the civil rights leader thing, maybe. But point taken.)
Clyburn has, in fact, endorsed raising the retirement age for Social Security and is bad on net neutrality: http://bit.ly/aaAKya
The two camps have taken opposite approaches: Hoyer’s allies have worked the media, reminding reporters the leader beat the Pelosi-backed John Murtha in 2006 and that Hoyer has campaigned for and donated to more members than any other Democrat. Keeping him in leadership, they say, is crucial to regaining the majority, if Democrats are to win the Republican-leaning districts they’d need.
The Clyburn camp, meanwhile, has worked quietly behind the scenes, assured that the math is in their favor and declining to pump the media with endorsements. HuffPost Hill’s inbox was graced with twelve blast emails from the Hoyer camp today, touting stories and Dear Colleagues, while the Clyburn camp sent out one (a letter countering Hoyer).
PARTY SWITCHERS? – A Hoyer loss could rock the right wing of the Democratic caucus, but a top House Republican aide says don’t count on it: Republicans have enough members and they’d take too much heat from their base for making any deals.
PROGRESSIVES FOR HOYER? – The crucial element of Hoyer’s strategy is to make the case that he has enough progressive support to combine with his Blue Dog and New Dem base to pull off a victory. “Hoyer is going to win,” a Democrat close to Hoyer said flatly. “In an open race for a caucus leadership post, the progressive candidate clearly has an edge. John Larson, who was generally seen as Nancy’s candidate, beat Joe Crowley, who was generally seen as Steny’s candidate, for vice chair of the caucus [in 2006],” said one member. “The advantage of the more progressive member would be much greater now. [But] Leadership races rarely work out as pure left/right battles, however.” Hoyer’s allies are pushing a deal that would leave Hoyer as the number two and Clyburn at three as the caucus chair. Clyburn is open to that deal, the Hoyer camp says, citing comments Clyburn made to Bob Schieffer on CBS’s “Face The Nation” this morning.
But here’s the transcript, which Clyburn sent to colleagues in a letter to counter the Hoyer charge. The Hoyer camp is seizing on “We’ll get all this worked out in the coming days.” You tell us if he’s saying he’s open to a deal:
Schieffer: Last week, after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she would ask House Democrats to re-elect her as their leader, you announced you wanted to run for the number two leadership post. Now that’s currently held by Steny Hoyer. And he, from all indications, is going to seek that post, too. So we’re going to have a contested election here for House leadership in a caucus of House Democrats that’s already, I’ve got to say, kind of, at the worst, in disarray, at best, I suppose you could say in a holding pattern. Were you happy that Nancy Pelosi decided to — that she wants to stay on as leader of the Democrats in the House?
Clyburn: I think you laid it out not exactly right. I am currently the Democratic whip. And what I announced was that I was going to be running for that position again. And fortunately, between the — when you’re in the minority, the top two positions are leader and whip. And we’ll see how that works out. I am perfectly satisfied with Nancy Pelosi’s leadership and I don’t have any problems with that. But I’m also satisfied with the record that I’ve laid out as whip. I think that every measurement that is used to determine success in this position, I’ve not only exceeded it; I’ve doubled it in many areas. And so as I talk to the members of our caucus, they are very satisfied with the way that I have been conducting myself as whip. When I talk to those people, our constituents out there, they say to me that I was a very effective spokesperson for our party and for the policies we laid out. And I want to continue in that position. 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.
On Friday, Colorado progressive Jared Polis publicly endorsed Hoyer, and the Hoyer camp got a second lick on the same cone when Polis re-endorsed Hoyer in a letter to colleagues, citing support from Ed Markey, Pete Welch, Lois Capps and John Garamendi (and immediately making his letter suspect by quoting HuffPost Hill from Friday).
THE PROGRESSIVE CASE FOR HOYER, PER PETE WELCH – Welch tells HuffPost Hill in a voicemail (we missed the call and blame @irisgrim): “The Democrats have two questions in this leadership debate. First, we need a hard headed analysis of how we lost. And second, we need a concrete plan of how we retake the majority. And who runs and who wins should be based on achieving the goal of regaining the majority. In my view, Steny Hoyer is the key in the swing districts. And our path back to the majority requires winning those districts. Steny has proven ability to help us there and that’s, I think, the most compelling argument about him continuing to play a major role in leadership. This is very difficult for Democrats, because we support all of the leadership team and we’re just going to have to sort this out. Everyone, from the speaker to the most junior member of leadership, they should be assessed on the basis of how they’re going to help us get back to the majority.”
The Hill reported that Bob Brady, another progressive, was backing Hoyer, but nobody else has been able to confirm that one, and The Hill didn’t provide a source.
LETTER FOR HOYER – On Sunday afternoon, 30 Hoyer supporters, mostly Blue Dogs and New Dems, circulated a letter backing their man, but it included the progressive Jerry Nadler (and Puerto Rico’s Pedro Pierliusi and American Samoa’s Eni Faleomavaega). Jim Moran, who’d previously announced his backing, was on the letter as well, as was Polis, weighing in with his third endorsement.
Hoyer has been prepping for a challenge like this for years and has been among the hardest workers when it comes to raising money and campaigning for Democrats. His work for progressive Darcy Burner earned him her endorsement in a HuffPost blog item Sunday evening, which Hoyer’s camp quickly blasted out to reporters: “When I ran in 2006 and 2008, Steny Hoyer was the first member of Democratic leadership to come help me. He did fundraisers, he talked to press, he sent money from his leadership PAC and his campaign account, he bundled checks from donors – whatever I needed, he tried to help. When he came to help, big donors took me more seriously as a candidate and started writing checks. When he came to help, local press took me more seriously as a candidate and started covering the race. When he came to help, organized labor decided I was viable and started to engage. In the last several cycles, he’s helped every remotely viable Democratic candidate, from the most progressive to the most conservative. He raised and donated millions, helping candidates from Alan Grayson and Tarryl Clark to Allen Boyd and Bobby Bright. He had a big role in building the last majority, and he’ll be important to building the next one.” Burner: http://huff.to/aeO87p
A Hoyer aide sent along a few anecdotes to show that Burner’s story isn’t a lone one: Hoyer was the first to send money to endangered Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Raul Grijalva, sent staff to help Rep. Phil Hare in Illinois and challenger Annie Kuster in New Hampshire, campaigned twice with progressive John Hall in New York and Betty Sutton in Ohio and for David Cicilline the weekend after his primary win. The problem for Hoyer is that Burner, Hare, Kuster and Hall aren’t in Congress, and neither are most of the Blue Dogs. Of the the 51-member conservative caucus, only 24 are certain to return, with two other races still too close to call.
A look at Hoyer’s FEC filing lays out the uphill climb for Hoyer: His PAC Hoyer for Congress donated to 98 candidates this cycle, but 62 of those lost; 28 won and eight are still unresolved. Hoyer plays hard in swing districts, which works well for him in Democratic years; not so well in GOP wave years. (Hoyer also gave a fortune to more than 100 other candidates from his leadership PAC, but HuffPost Hill’s dogged Lucia Graves only had time to do one on a Sunday. We’ll get back to you with the other.)
HUFFPOST HILL’S CALCULATOR – That makes the math hard for Hoyer, but not impossible. Adding the 24 Blue Dogs to the 34 returning New Dems who aren’t also Blue Dogs gets Hoyer to 56, assuming he wins every single one minus Greg Meeks, a New Dem who is declared for Clyburn already. Add in the Maryland delegation that isn’t in either caucus and that gives Hoyer five more votes, including his own, getting him to 61 (though that assumes he gets CBC members Elijah Cummings and Donna Edwards). Adding in declared members who aren’t in either caucus, such as Hinchey, Welch, Ben Lujan, Linda Sanchez, Sam Farr, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Ed Markey and Speier, gets him up into the mid- to high-70s, within striking distance of the roughly 96 he’ll need, depending on how the remaining races unfold.
Clyburn, too, starts out with a solid base, as most of the CBC returns. He’ll win much of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and has natural allies in the progressive caucus. The Clyburn camp has been reluctant to release names, but did provide this list: CBC Chair Barbara Lee, Emanuel Cleaver, Bennie Thompson, Gregory Meeks, Louise Slaughter, Peter DeFazio, Luis Gutierrez and Grace Napolitano. (Meeks is a New Dem.)
The Hill papers:
The Hill’s Russell Berman and Alex Bolton: “Hoyer intensifies push for No. 2 post, claiming lead on Clyburn” http://bit.ly/ahCY3L
Roll Call’s Steven T. Dennis and Kathleen Hunter: “Democrats Struggle to Unify” http://bit.ly/crVsbg
Politico’s Jon Allen and John Bresnahan: “Hoyer claims lead over Clyburn” – “Hoyer has been endorsed by Reps. Jason Altmire (Pa.), Shelley Berkley (Nev.), Dan Boren (Okla.), Robert Brady (Pa.), Lois Capps (Calif.), Dennis Cardoza (Calif.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Ted Deutch (Fla.), Sam Farr (Calif.), Bob Filner (Calif.), John Garamendi (Calif.), Gene Green (Texas), Eni Faleomavaega (American Samoa), Brian Higgins (N.Y.), Tim Holden (Pa.), Dale Kildee (Mich.), Larry Kissell (N.C.), Jim Langevin (R.I.), Dan Lipinski (Ill.), Ben Ray Lujan (N.M.), Jim Moran (Va.), Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Pedro Pierluisi (Puerto Rico), Jared Polis (Colo.), Silvestre Reyes (Texas), Steve Rothman (N.J.), Lucille Roybal-Allard (Calif.), Linda Sanchez (Calif.), John Sarbanes (Md.), Adam Schiff (Calif.), Albio Sires (N.J.), Adam Smith (Wash.) and Peter Welch (Vt.), according to sources close to Hoyer.” http://politi.co/bjaoXs
VAN HOLLEN WEIGHS IN: On CNN this morning, Chris Van Hollen, a member of Hoyer’s Maryland delegation, wouldn’t disclose who he’s supporting in the leadership race but said that both candidates know who he favors. “This is, sort of, internal politics and it’s not something you talk about on the air or announce a particular preference on the air, because it’s not a preference over one person’s leadership abilities over the other. These are very difficult decisions for the caucus. And 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.” Van Hollen suggested that both men would have a seat at the leadership table no matter who wins.
SCHUMER SAYS NO TO DSCC RETURN: Twenty-one Democratic Senators plus Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders will be defending their seats in 2012 (vs. 10 Republicans), and they won’t have Chuck Schumer helping to guide their campaign strategy. “I have been asked by Leader Reid and many of my colleagues, and I’ve said I think I can better serve our country, our state, and our party by focusing on issues and getting us to refocus on the middle class,” Schumer said during an Upper West Side presser today, according to NY Observer’s Reid Pillifant.
More Schumer wisdom: “Bottom line is this: In my view, the middle class this election felt both beleaguered and no one’s talking to them. … The first party that will solve that problem, the first individuals that will solve that problem, will be the heroes of the next election. The public is up for grabs. The middle class is up for grabs. The party, the candidates, the individuals, that reassure the middle class that they’re focusing on them and then effectively do something about it will predominate in the next election.” Notes Pillifant: “He said ‘middle class’ at least 13 times during the brief question-and-answer session.” http://bit.ly/9V8VNy
@KeithOlbermann: Greetings From Exile! A quick, overwhelmed, stunned THANK YOU for support that feels like a global hug & obviously left me tweetless
STATEMENT REGARDING KEITH OLBERMANN – From Phil Griffin, President of MSNBC: “After several days of deliberation and discussion, I have determined that suspending Keith through and including Monday night’s program is an appropriate punishment for his violation of our policy. We look forward to having him back on the air Tuesday night.”