Race is On Among House Democrats to Become Assistant Speaker to Nancy Pelosi
With still four months left to go in the 116th Congress, the race is already underway among Democrats on Capitol Hill for one of its most powerful positions: assistant speaker of the House.
Rep. David Cicilline officially threw his hat into the ring on Thursday, notifying his Democratic colleagues in a letter first obtained by Newsweek that he will be seeking their support for the No. 4-ranked spot in the House when the caucus votes, likely sometime following the November election.
"[T]here is no question we have to win back the White House and the Senate this November to fully deliver on the promises that we made to the American people to lower the costs of healthcare, raise family incomes, and end the culture of corruption in Washington, D.C.," the Rhode Island Democrat wrote. "In preparation for the work that lies ahead next Congress, I have decided to run for Assistant Speaker."
Cicilline, already a leadership member as head of the Democratic Caucus' messaging arm and vice chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, hopes to elevate his role by replacing Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.). Luján is leaving his House post amid his run for the Senate to replace Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who is retiring.
In an interview with Newsweek, Cicilline pitched his potential assistant speaker role as one that would focus on bridging the divide between leadership and rank-and-file members, diversifying the demographics of congressional staffers and utilizing his experience as a communicator to effectively navigate the wide-ranging opinions of a diverse party.
"With a President Biden and Vice President Harris, it will be a moment of tremendous opportunity for our caucus and the country, and a moment of tremendous responsibility," Cicilline said. "There's an opportunity for us to get things done for the American people, but we have to be strategic and smart and do it in a way that we actually obtain those results and maintain the majority for the foreseeable future."
"I think I've shown that I can do that," he added.
While many Americans may be unaware of the official assistant role to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), it's a powerful position that Cicilline also sought in 2018.
Since then, he was front and center in the impeachment probe of President Donald Trump as a member of the House Judiciary Committee that drafted the impeachment articles, never shying away from hallway interviews when approached by reporters or hitting the airwaves. Throughout the process, Cicilline was cautious to separate his own stance as one of the impeachment inquiry's earliest supporters from the rest of his colleagues, many of whom held out before coming around to the same belief that Trump should be removed from office.
Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who's backing Cicilline, said he's stood out as someone who's been able to successfully work with the "ideological spectrum of our caucus."
"He's shown himself to have depth on political messaging and very strong policy chops," Takano told Newsweek. "That combination is what you want to see in leadership."
A fifth-term lawmaker, Cicilline has also been a leading voice among Democrats for antitrust laws, particularly when it comes to regulating big technology companies. And he was also the first openly gay man to have a seat at the leadership table.
"I think I've proved to the caucus that I know how to build consensus, I know how to listen, how to work together, and I was willing to put in the time to serve the caucus," Cicilline said.
Cicilline joins a field competing for the position that includes Rep. Tony Cárdenas, a California Democrat. The vice chair of the Democratic Caucus, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), is also reportedly jockeying for the spot privately. Clark's office declined a request to be interviewed for this story.
Cárdenas said that with the exit of Luján, the only Latino member of leadership, there is a void left that only he can fill.
"Hispanics are the largest minority in America," Cárdenas told Newsweek in an interview. "We definitely should have representation at this table. I'm putting my best foot forward to make sure that I add to that diversity."
As a politician who is less frequently in the national spotlight than are Cicilline and Clark, Cárdenas' more reserved approach can be likened to that of Luján. But Cárdenas, a fourth-term lawmaker, also has leadership experience. He cited his position leading the Congressional Hispanic Caucus's political arm, Bold PAC, and his efforts to increase the Latino presence on Capitol Hill by helping to raise $17 million in recent years and electing more Democrats.
Like Cicilline, Cárdenas said one of his signature objectives as assistant speaker would be to increase the diversity of staffers for Democratic lawmakers, which he described as "abysmal." Of the top three positions among congressional House staffers, Cárdenas said more than 85 percent of them are white.
"That's not reflective of America," he said. "As Democrats, we speak about that all the time."
Clark, a fourth-term lawmaker, has also been a more quiet yet powerful voice in Congress, rising up the leadership ranks in recent years. And like Cicilline, Clark is a member of the Progressive Caucus, an important cohort of lawmakers in which the two will likely compete for for support.
Out of the gate, Cicilline is backed by progressives and moderates, including Reps. Takano, Stephanie Murphy (Fla.), Ted Deutch (Fla.) and Terri Sewell (Ala.).
"I've been impressed with his leadership, crafting the message that helped us win back the majority in 2018," Murphy told Newsweek. "He's shown that he's determined to hear from everyone, and has shown he can find common ground."
Cárdenas has the support of Reps. Luján and Ruben Gallego (Ariz.), both Hispanic Caucus members. Gallego is also a Progressive Caucus member. However, Luján cannot vote in the caucus election because he's leaving the House.
Gallego told The Los Angeles Times that "for many of us in the Latino caucus, we want to make sure we have a voice in leadership."
Luján offered a similar sentiment, telling the California newspaper that "Tony has never forgotten his roots, never forgotten the sacrifices made by his family."
The Democratic trio of assistant speaker contenders still have several months to campaign and lobby their colleagues. But until Election Day, Cicilline said his energy will be focused on just one candidate: Joe Biden.
This story was updated to note that Rep. Luján will be unable to vote in the next caucus election.