Soon-to-be-former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to seek the position of House Minority Leader has created a problem for her lieutenants.
Winners get three top jobs: speaker, majority leader, majority whip.
Losers get two top jobs: minority leader, minority whip.
That’s set up the competition between current Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, and current Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-South Craolina, for the Minority Whip position.
There has been some grumbling about the contest, with suggestions that Democrats cannot afford a fight about leadership and direction of the party’s caucus in the House. But I agree with Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez, who argues that "Democrats suffered devastating losses on Election Day. No way to sugarcoat it, no way to spin it. But choosing the leadership team for Democrats in the House is the first opportunity we have to chart a course back to the majority, so I want a campaign, I want a vote…"
"A competitive leadership election will be the Democratic Party’s first chance to cut through hundreds of millions of dollars of third-party and corporate ads and remind the American people that we’re still standing, and what we stand for. We should make it clear there is no retreating and we stand by the values and policies that make us Democrats," notes Gutierrez, one of the chamber’s streadiest progressives. "It’s easy to apologize and surrender. That would be a mistake. Instead of waving a white flag and waiting for the smoke of battle to clear, it’s time to dig in and fight. I believe if we retreat now, we will never recover the ground we surrender. If we watch quietly from the sidelines, extremists who are hostile to our accomplishments will yell the loudest, get the most attention, dominate the debate and could do a great deal of damage.
So the whip race is a good thing.
But who is the best choice?
The contest is being portrayed as a fight between a centrist (Hoyer) and a liberal (Clyburn). But it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Hoyer’s clearly got the advantage, with many of Pelosi allies and a number of key players in the caucus—such as Joint Economic Committee chair Carolyn Maloney, of New York—rallying to him.
Hoyer gets marks for reaching out to progressives. When The Nation and Progressive Democrats of America hosted a series of forums at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008, Hoyer appeared with us and reflected on his roots as a civil rights campaigner in the 1960s. He earned a warm reception and it was obvious that he got on well with many of the more progressive House members who participated in the forums. Outreach of the sort Hoyer has done counts for something and he has been rewarded in this race with endorsements from progressive members such as New York’s Jerry Nadler and Colorado’s Jared Polis.