Rep. Jim Clyburn wants to stay in House Democratic leadership in the next Congress. And unlike other party leaders, he might have an easier time keeping his seat at the table.
“I have a base,” the South Carolina Democrat told McClatchy Wednesday. “It’s called the Congressional Black Caucus.”
Clyburn was reflecting on his status in the aftermath of New York Democrat Joe Crowley’s primary defeat on Tuesday night. The House Democratic Caucus Chairman’s fall is being widely viewed as a sign that voters are sick and tired of an aging, stagnant party leadership structure.
But while 78-year-old House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 79-year-old House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer might now be wondering whether they’ll feel new pressure to step aside to make room for a younger slate of Democrats, Clyburn, the Assistant House Democratic Leader whose 78th birthday is next month, is more insulated.
The highest ranking black lawmaker in Congress, Clyburn said he has engendered loyalty among his colleagues in the 48-member CBC, of which all but one are Democrats, by helping to elevate them to powerful positions in Congress and representing their interests at the leadership table.
CBC members said he deserved to be rewarded for those efforts.
“I think he’s going to be in leadership for as long as he wants to,” said Rep. Mark Veasey, D-Texas. “He’s been a tremendously important part of why we’re successful in the Black Caucus."
Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, said she’d like to see Clyburn run for the top slot in leadership, which would be history-making.
“We have one of the strongest, most resourceful people in the entire Democratic Caucus in Jim Clyburn.”
The black caucus provides an unusually strong foundation for Clyburn’s continued leadership role, said Jaime Harrison, recent chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party who now holds a leadership role with the DNC and was a longtime Clyburn aide.
‘’The Congressional Black Caucus is probably the most unified collective force in the Democratic Caucus,” Harrison explained. “I don’t see Pelosi or Hoyer having a base that is as unified in purpose as the CBC.”
Clyburn is not completely safe.
Pelosi is still considered the top target for ousting, with a growing number of Democratic candidates for Congress saying they won’t vote for her as their leader. That includes Joe Cunningham, who is running in South Carolina’s First District.
Clyburn, Pelosi and Hoyer are often considered a leadership team, all having served together in the top three positions for more than a decade. Some younger members want complete change.
Also, while Clyburn ran unopposed in his primary race this year, he could become vulnerable in future elections if he doesn’t heed calls for a generational shift.
Bakari Sellers, 33, an attorney and CNN analyst who served as a South Carolina State House Representative and was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2014, said he would one day run for Congress.
On Wednesday, Sellers suggested the 2020 cycle “might be my time” to seek the Democratic nomination in the Sixth Congressional District, saying Crowley’s defeat Tuesday evening proved members of his party wanted “young visionaries” in elected office.
“I have no doubt that Clyburn, Pelosi and Hoyer can win leadership races for as long as they want to, but they have to ask themselves the question, ‘do they believe it’s healthy and has their time passed?’” Sellers said. “Our leadership is too old and too stale.”
Clyburn has compared Sellers’ political ambitions to the Greek myth of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun in a fatal display of hubris.
He has also called Cunningham’s announcement that he’d vote against Pelosi “foolish,” a sentiment which could backfire. A senior Democratic aide said Clyburn’s loyalty to Pelosi could make him be seen as part of the status quo that needs to be replaced.
On Wednesday, Clyburn said he wasn’t worried about his congressional seat, explaining he always makes time to go home to the district even as he balances his leadership responsibilities. As for his leadership position, Clyburn acknowledged that in order to stay on, he would need support beyond the CBC.
If the CBC didn’t want him to run for leadership, he would step aside, he said. So far, he said, no one has told him to do so.