Clyburn gets a challenger for leadership job as younger Democrats push for change

WASHINGTON — Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island announced Wednesday that he will challenge longtime leader Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina for the No. 4 position in House Democratic leadership.

Cicilline’s bid to be the caucus’s assistant leader comes after some younger Democratic members expressed frustration with Clyburn’s decision to stay on in party leadership after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced their plans to step aside for a new generation.

In a letter to his Democratic colleagues Wednesday, Cicilline, 61, suggested he felt compelled to run for the leadership post after the recent shooting in Colorado Springs at the LGBTQ nightclub Club Q.

“With so much at stake, I think it is critical that the House Democratic Leadership team fully reflect the diversity of our caucus and the American people by including an LGBTQ+ member at the leadership table, which is why I’ve decided to run for Assistant Leader,” he wrote.

Democrats elected a new slate of young members to lead their party on Wednesday, naming Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, 52, of New York, as minority leader. Jeffries, who will make history as the first Black lawmaker to lead a political party’s caucus in either chamber, will be joined by Reps. Katherine Clark, 59, of Massachusetts, and Pete Aguilar, 43, of California, as the party’s top three leaders.

The Cicilline-Clyburn race for the No. 4 post will be decided Thursday in another closed-door vote.

“I would be honored and humbled to have your support and to be able to join Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine Clark, and Pete Aguilar as part of the new generation of House leadership,” Cicilline wrote. “As many of you will remember, I ran for Assistant Speaker previously and after falling short last time I told many of you that I planned to run again once Assistant Speaker Clark was elected to another position. Now that the position will be vacant, I am asking for your support once again.”

Cicilline served as chairman of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, which is considered part of the leadership team, from 2019 to 2021. He has represented his state’s 1st Congressional District since 2011.

Clyburn, 82, a beloved figure in Democratic politics and a former Black Caucus chairman, has served in leadership for years after coming to Congress in 1993. Since his party retook control of the House in 2019, he has been majority whip, a role he held after Democrats took the House in 2007. From 2011 to 2019, he had served as assistant Democratic leader and also worked as the chair and vice chair of his caucus.

Several younger Democrats were upset and surprised by Clyburn’s decision to run for a leadership position.

“It was the sense of the caucus that the three top leaders could provide counsel but would not have official leadership posts,” one younger Democratic lawmaker told NBC News earlier this month. “Many of us think very highly of Jim Clyburn, but these complications will have potential to divide a remarkably unified caucus.”

Another younger Democratic member who is supporting Cicilline said Wednesday, “I think it’s pretty ridiculous that Nancy had to leave. … She was the most effective leader in history, and I’m not sure why he [Clyburn] didn’t have to leave with her.”

Clyburn had announced his bid for assistant leader before the Thanksgiving break. In an interview Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” he said he wanted to remain in a leadership role so that his party still had representation from the South.

“And look at our leadership, the South is left out of it,” Clyburn said. “And what we are doing is trying to make sure that we do not tilt too far to the east or too far to the west, but maintain what we have here. There is no other Southerner among the leadership, and we need the South.”

Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio said she’ll support Clyburn but that Cicilline has a right to run. “I think he wants to represent his point of view, and he has the right to do that,” Kaptur told NBC News. “I personally am pledged to Mr. Clyburn. We need some wisdom in the upper ranks.”

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