Rep. Jim Clyburn cooled speculation early Wednesday that could seek one of the top two House leadership jobs, saying he will run for the number three slot in the new House Democratic majority, his current position.
The South Carolina lawmaker told McClatchy early Wednesday morning that he would soon, in a letter to colleagues, make his candidacy official for House Majority Whip. He held that title the last time Democrats controlled the House, between 2007-2011.
“I’ve made several phone calls (on Tuesday) letting people know what I was going to do,” Clyburn said. Democrats won the majority in Tuesday’s election and will control the House starting in January for the next two years.
Clyburn is currently assistant Democratic leader and highest-ranking black member of Congress. He and his allies have stoked rumors for the past few months that he might try to run for speaker if Democrats retake the House. There have also been rumblings that Clyburn could vie to become the majority leader, the No. 2 leadership post.
Clyburn reiterated Wednesday morning he never planned to challenge Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California or Minority Whip Steny Hoyer for speaker or majority leader, respectively.
He made clear, however, that if Pelosi does not have the votes, he would “explore a promotion.”
Pelosi, 78, Hoyer, 79, and Clyburn, 78, have presided over House Democrats for over a decade. Many Democrats believe all three members should step aside and allow a new generation of leaders to ascend.
At the least, say these lawmakers, Pelosi, who many members believe is politically toxic to the national party brand, should give up her position.
On Tuesday night, at least eight House Democrats won election who promised on the campaign trail not to back Pelosi for speaker. Pelosi has expressed confidence about her chances of becoming speaker again in a spate of interviews over the last several weeks, but it’s not yet clear whether she can withstand calls for change.
Clyburn told McClatchy that he, Pelosi and Hoyer had all discussed the importance of “transition, and we will continue to discuss transition in our leadership.
“I would say to our members, ‘Let’s stay united as a caucus and let’s have those discussions and see whether there’s a best way to undertake the transition in leadership that we all know must take place,’” Clyburn said.
He did not elaborate, saying he could only talk about his own role in leadership and no one else’s.
“I think the caucus will work its will,” Clyburn said.
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio said earlier this year a Clyburn speakership would be “historic” in that it would elevate a black lawmaker to the highest ranks of congressional leadership. In an interview with McClatchy late Tuesday night, he said Clyburn as speaker was still “one option” on the table.
But Ryan, who challenged Pelosi for minority leader in 2016 and continues to advocate for change at the top of the leadership ladder, said new members must be consulted about who they want to lead the party.
“It’s all gonna depend on who the members are, who the winners are … and what do they need the leadership to look like, geographically, demographically, to help them hold onto their seats and for us to grow the majority,” Ryan said.