WASHINGTON – It seems like Reps. Dean Phillips and Angie Craig will get their wish for a new generation of Democratic leaders in the next Congress, even if they and those who lead them will be in the minority.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to retire from leadership – and the decision of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to do the same – has opened the door for younger Democrats to take their reins of their party. Pelosi is 82 and Hoyer is 83.
But that was not the end of announced retirements on Thursday. Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn, 82, credited for helping to engineer a pivotal Joe Biden primary win in his home state of South Carolina, also said he was stepping down.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., who is 52, is widely expected to be the leader of House Democrats in the new Congress, which will be gaveled in on Jan. 3. Reps. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, who is 59, and Pete Aguilar of California, who is 43, are expected to seek the No. 2 and No. 3 three spots, respectively.
“Speaker Pelosi’s decision to pass the torch to a new generation of leadership in the Democratic Caucus is the right and honorable one,” Phillips said in a statement. “As the first female Speaker of the House and one of the most successful of all time, I honor Speaker Pelosi’s service to our country and our Congress – especially over these extraordinarily difficult past four years. It is now time to look to the future, and I believe Hakeem Jeffries is the right leader at the right time for our party and our nation.”
“I am tremendously grateful for Speaker Pelosi’s years of service to our country and I know that the next generation of Democratic leaders are better prepared to assume their roles having witnessed her dynamic leadership,” said Craig.
Pelosi kept her plans under wraps amid rampant speculation about her future as the GOP slowly moved towards the majority this week. After the GOP won the required minimum number of seats to seize the majority – 218 – late Wednesday, Pelosi announced her decision in a speech in the House chamber Thursday.
“It is now time for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus,” she said.
She charted her political path “from homemaker to House speaker” and detailed her work with various former presidents, including George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, but notably snubbed former President Donald Trump.
“It’s been my privilege to play a part in forging extraordinary progress for the American people. I have enjoyed working with three presidents,” Pelosi said, waving three fingers and not mentioning the fourth president.
After the speech announcing her decision , Pelosi received accolades from Minnesota’s House Democrats, including Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-5th, who as a member of the most progressive wing of the party sometimes clashed with the speaker on policy issues, including border funding and budget caps.
Omar called Pelosi “a beacon of hope to me and my family, a reminder that anything is possible in the United States of America.”
“It has been a deep honor to serve with her directly in the House – to see her skills as a strategist and vote-counter up close, and to learn directly from her wisdom and experience,” she said. “She has taught me how to hold your head up high and show up to do the work – even when your life is at risk. I am proud to call her a mentor and a friend.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Betty McCollum, D-4th, whose friendship with the outgoing speaker spans decades, said Pelosi, the first woman to hold the job, “will go down in history as one of our nation’s most effective and influential speakers.”
“What makes Speaker Pelosi unique is not just her leadership during tumultuous times, but her integrity and her character,” McCollum said.
With a slim GOP majority in the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., his party’s candidate for speaker, must be heedful of the demands of all House Republicans. That includes those of the most-conservative bloc of lawmakers known as the Freedom Caucus, which has called for a ban on earmarks.
Earmarks, preferred to be called “community projects” by lawmakers, were banned by Republicans in the House and Senate in 2011. But they made a comeback in the Democratic-controlled chambers in this Congress.
This year, Democrats and Republicans alike procured nearly 5,000 earmarks totaling $9 billion in the $1.5 trillion government spending bill signed by President Biden.
Millions of dollars for local projects were obtained by Minnesota lawmakers, with the notable exception of Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-7th, who requested no earmarks.
Those Minnesota’s lawmakers secured money to pay for local waste water and road projects, low-income housing, Boys and Girls clubs, and new programs at the state’s hospitals and community colleges – and a long list of other things.
However House Freedom Caucus members believe earmarks are wasteful “pork” that help swell the deficit.
McCarthy promised the Freedom Caucus a vote on the proposal to ban earmarks, after Thanksgiving.
It’s not known if all Republicans will go along with that rule change. Democrats, however, largely want to keep being able to seek funding for special projects.
Craig, D-2nd, said the proposal to ban earmarks once again is “ill advised.”
“The community based projects have been incredibly popular back home,” she said.
Phillips seeks leadership job tasked with Democratic messaging
Rep. Tom Emmer, R-6th, won a very competitive race this week to win the No.3 position in GOP House leadership, that of majority whip, in the next Congress.
But he’s not the only member of Minnesota’s delegation to the House who is seeking a party leadership role.
Phillips, D-3rd, was busy campaigning for the job of co-chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC), pushing a cart filled with dozens and dozens of tiny plants (they looked like succulents) to the offices of fellow Democrats.
In the card attached to the plants he distributed, Phillips says that his experience “researching consumer behavior and developing marketing campaigns for successful brands helped me flip a red seat blue for the first time in 60 years.”
Elected to Congress in 2018, Phillips is the former CEO of his family’s liquor business, the former co-owner of Talenti gelato and a co-owner of Penny’s Coffee.
But Phillips has competition. Others in the running for DPCC co-chair include Reps. Susan Wild, D-Pa., Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, and Lauren Underwood, D-Ill.
The job Phillips seeks, currently held by Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado, entails trying to get the fractious Democratic caucus to adopt a unified message and, perhaps, a new “brand.”
His pitch to rebrand House Democrats may not be well-received among some of the more progressive House Democrats. Phillips is a member of the centrist New Democrat Coalition and has pushed for legislation to provide new funding for local police.
House leadership elections have been scheduled for Nov. 30.
Senate clears the way for same-sex marriage bill
The Senate cleared a procedural hurdle this week on a bill that would codify the right to same-sex marriage and abolish a ban of federal benefits to same-sex couples.
The 62-37 vote, which included the “yes” votes of 12 Republican senators and all 50 Democrats, paved the way for a final vote on the bill after Congress’ Thanksgiving break.
“This is the kind of bill that should get 100 votes,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., during Senate debate on the bill. “It’s about equality. It’s about dignity. And it’s about love. It’s about saying we won’t go back to the days when a patchwork of state laws determined whether the union of two people who loved each other would be recognized by their government.”
The right to gay marriages was thought to be established law since June 2015, when he Supreme Court ordered that same-sex unions be granted the same protections as marriages between men and women.
But distrust of the new conservative Supreme Court majority prompted House Democrats to pass a bill to codify the rights of same-sex couples last summer. Forty-seven House Republicans, including Emmer, joined Democrats to pass a version of the Respect for Marriage Act.
Since the Senate bill is slightly different than the House-passed bill, the House will have to vote on the Senate legislation in order to send a final bill for Biden to sign.