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Hoyer and Clyburn Battle for Minority Whip Votes

Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn continued their aggressive battle for number 2 in command in the House Democratic leadership over the weekend, with Hoyer revealing at least 30 backers while Clyburn made his case more quietly.

Hoyer produced a “Dear Colleague” letter promoting his candidacy for Minority Whip, signed by 30 current members of the caucus, out of the 188-plus who will return to Washington next year. The signatures included some of the remaining Blue Dogs thought to be Hoyer’s base, but also warhorses like John Dingell and progressives like John Garamendi, Jerrold Nadler and Jared Polis. I think Darcy Burner made the best progressive case for Hoyer to stay in the leadership.

When I ran in 2006 and 2008, Steny Hoyer was the first member of Democratic leadership to come help me. He did fundraisers, he talked to press, he sent money from his leadership PAC and his campaign account, he bundled checks from donors – whatever I needed, he tried to help. When he came to help, big donors took me more seriously as a candidate and started writing checks. When he came to help, local press took me more seriously as a candidate and started covering the race. When he came to help, organized labor decided I was viable and started to engage.

In the last several cycles, he’s helped every remotely viable Democratic candidate, from the most progressive to the most conservative. He raised and donated millions, helping candidates from Alan Grayson and Tarryl Clark to Allen Boyd and Bobby Bright. He had a big role in building the last majority, and he’ll be important to building the next one.

Hoyer has thus far been the only candidate to show his hand with high-profile backers, though the Congressional Black Caucus endorsed Clyburn. We should expect a list of Clyburn supporters to come out today. The current Majority Whip appeared on Morning Joe today, and announced himself the underdog in the race.

“I probably am the underdog in this race. I’ve been here 18 years; Steny’s been here 30 years. He has his friends. I have mine. And Steny and I are friends,” Clyburn said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “We are not going to leave this [leadership race] angry at each other.”

Let me suggest that this fight is a big smokescreen to distract attention away from Pelosi’s historic return as Minority Leader. There’s a slight ideological difference between Clyburn and Hoyer, but the emphasis is on “slight.” Clyburn hasn’t exactly been a stalwart on net neutrality or Social Security. And furthermore, there seems to be a scenario where an accommodation gets made. Clyburn said on Face the Nation this weekend that he expects a resolution “in such a way that our caucus will be very satisfied with the leadership team going forward.”

What nobody is really talking about, then, is Pelosi, consumed instead with this additional leadership fight. The New York Times editorial board did call for new leadership and a better communicator in that role, but mostly, you hear a lot of jousting about Hoyer and Clyburn. Pelosi’s position is therefore safer.

UPDATE: Clyburn has now sent around his own Dear Colleague letter, written by Barbara Lee, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. While it’s unclear how many signatures it has, the letter asks members to “join the CBC” in support of Clyburn’s campaign, suggesting that he at least has the support of the majority of the 43 members of that organization. I’ll put the whole letter on the flip.

UPDATE II: A source close to Rep. Clyburn says that his CBC support certainly represents a majority and perhaps all of its members.

Dear Colleague:

I am writing to ask for your support of Jim Clyburn to continue as Democratic Whip. With our country and our party at a crossroads, it is important that we have a leadership team in place that recognizes the strength and diversity of the Democratic Caucus and puts the needs of the Caucus before their own agendas. Like many of you, as Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, I have worked closely with Jim to advance an agenda that has made a difference for millions of Americans. We need Jim’s continued leadership as Democratic Whip going forward.

As Majority Whip, Jim Clyburn has been an extremely effective consensus-builder, rounding up the votes for what has been called the most productive Congress in decades. Thanks to his leadership and precise vote counting skills, we were able to pass the Recovery Act, health care reform (which included landmark student loan reform), Wall Street reform, and many other pieces of legislation that are helping to turn our country around. As we transition into the minority, it is even more important that Jim Clyburn continue in his role as Whip.

Jim has spent a lifetime working to bridge what divides us. Throughout his career in South Carolina, he learned how to work with conservatives and moderates to get results. As Caucus Vice-Chair, Caucus Chairman and Majority Whip, he brought together the diverse spectrum of our caucus behind a unified agenda. Jim has been a key voice in marginal districts where African American constituencies are strong. He has consistently supported our members, he has campaigned in these districts, and he knows what it takes to recruit candidates and win elections.

In the 112th Congress, we will need Jim’s dedication to thwart Republican efforts to repeal all of the progress we have made on behalf of the American people. I am convinced that we will regain our majority in two short years, but we need a leadership team that will stand up for the principles we cherish and effectively communicate why these principles will create more opportunity for all Americans.

While I know that this may be a difficult choice for you, as we contemplate the future of our Caucus, I am certain about one thing. We need Jim Clyburn’s leadership in the 112th Congress. As the Chair, I am asking you to join the CBC in supporting him for Democratic Whip.

Barbara J. Lee

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David Dayen

David Dayen