WASHINGTON – The battle over who will be the No. 2 leader of weakened House Democrats in the next Congress took on racial overtones Monday as Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who is white, and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, who is black, battled for supporters.
Rep. Barbara Lee of California, who chairs the 41-member Congressional Black Caucus, told colleagues in a letter that it’s important to keep an African-American on the party’s House leadership team. Rep. Bobby Rush, an Illinois African-American, sent a separate letter backing Clyburn for the post.
Thirty House Democrats – none of them black – sent colleagues their own letter soliciting support for Hoyer, who has served in Congress for three decades.
The internal leadership contest between Hoyer, a convivial lawmaker from Maryland, and Clyburn, a South Carolinian who is the highest-ranking black member of Congress, was sparked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to seek the House minority leader job in the new Congress.
The 30 Hoyer supporters include seven Hispanic members.
“You may find the politics of race dictates a lot of what happens,” said Michael Franc, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington, said.
Hoyer formally declared his candidacy for minority whip Monday in a letter to his House peers.
“I have been encouraged by the number of my fellow Democrats who have urged me to remain the second-ranking member of our leadership team in the House,” he wrote.
Denying Clyburn a leadership post would offend many members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who will make up more than one-fifth of House Democrats in the next legislative session.
“It (would) send a bad signal to the country, especially leading into a presidential election where African-American turnout is important to Democrats,” said Darrell West, with the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington.