The power struggle among House Democrats has gotten ugly quick, with one leading candidate for the third-ranking role accusing his detractors of using racially charged criticisms to thwart his bid for majority whip.
“Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina on Tuesday accused detractors of using racially-charged ‘dog whistles’ to undermine his bid for the No. 3 slot in House Democratic leadership,” McClatchy’s Emma Dumain reports. “Clyburn, the current assistant Democratic leader and highest ranking black lawmaker in Congress, told McClatchy race was being injected into the competition for House majority whip.”
While Clyburn didn’t name names, he did provide some more context and suggestions about the kinds of “dog whistling” taking place among his Democratic colleagues.
“I don’t know where it’s all coming from,” he told McClatchy. “But someone came to me over the weekend and told me that (they heard), when I was whip before, I was a figurehead.”
Such criticisms of the only black member of the Democratic leadership team, he suggested, was “the little dog whistles that have been floating around this side for a long time,” Clyburn said. “What do you mean, I was a figurehead? Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Challenging Clyburn for majority whip, the congressman tasked with solidifying votes to promote the leadership’s agenda, is Colorado’s Rep. Diana DeGette, who served as chief deputy whip for 14 years. Her decision to oppose him surprised Democrats, who expected that Clyburn, who served as whip from 2007 to 2011, would run unopposed.
Clyburn told McClatchy that he does not blame DeGette for what he characterized as racially charged criticisms that are not “complimentary” to the Democratic caucus.
DeGette’s spokesman says the congresswoman “categorically and respectfully rejected” any notion that either she or any of her supporters were promoting racially charged criticisms of Clyburn. But she’s also making clear that she believes she can be more effective than he is in the role.
“The pitch she’s making is pretty direct,” said DeGettte spokesman Matt Inzeo. “It’s going to be a fairly narrow majority … and particularly given the larger political dynamics with the Senate or the White House, it’s going to be really important to have a whip who does that job and delivers the vote.”
Dumain notes that the internal debates over the necessity of a Black Caucus member playing a role in one of the three key leadership positions has been ongoing since campaign season (formatting adjusted):
During the campaign season, there was even chatter that Clyburn should consider competing against 79-year-old Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the current House minority whip, for majority leader, ensuring a black lawmaker would hold one of the top two leadership slots. … Yet days before the midterm elections, Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond, D-Louisiana, said in a letter that he and other members only believed an African-American should be in one of the top two positions in House Democratic leadership if there was a vacancy in the leadership’s top three slots.