Hoyer eyes majority leader post in next Congress

Hoyer eyes majority leader post in next Congress

  11 Oct 2018


Steny Hoyer

Allies say House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer has the experience and savvy to steer Democrats toward progressive policy wins even with President Donald Trump in the White House. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Steny Hoyer wants to be House majority leader next year. Very badly.

Hoyer — who came to Congress when Ronald Reagan was a brand-new president — is hoping that Democrats win on election night and return him to the No. 2 House job, a post he last held eight years ago.

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Hoyer is also confident Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California can assemble the votes necessary to become speaker, despite calls from some Democrats to replace her.

But if for some reason Pelosi doesn’t become speaker, Hoyer will run to lead House Democrats, according to lawmakers and aides familiar with the Maryland Democrat’s plans. Hoyer will never challenge Pelosi for speaker. However, if the job is open, he’ll run for it.

For all the talk about 2018 being a change election, the next session of Congress could be deja vu for the troika of Democratic leaders. Pelosi, 78, Hoyer, 79, and Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn, 78, led the Democratic Caucus in 2010 when the tea party unceremoniously swept them out of power. Right now, that‘s what the Democratic lineup looks likely to be in the 116th Congress.

With all that is at stake, Hoyer has hit the campaign trail in a big way, raising more money than any other Democrat but Pelosi.

Hoyer visited 94 districts in 22 states this cycle, campaigning for at least 112 Democrats — 37 incumbents and 75 candidates, including everyone on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red-to-Blue list” — and raising or contributing nearly $9 million for the effort to retake the House, according to his aides.

While other Democrats playfully chide Hoyer for his long-running “Make It In America” push for U.S. manufacturers, it’s a message that he can carry to almost any district, especially in red states where Pelosi can’t.

He’s also pushing a reform agenda for House Democrats that includes overhauling campaign finance and voting laws, new ethics rules and changes to how Congress works.

It’s boring, yes, but boring is actually one of Hoyer’s strengths. He doesn’t offend anyone, can work with different factions inside the fractious Democratic Caucus and across party lines, is trusted by all, and relies heavily on his record of personal integrity.

Hoyer declined to be interviewed for this story. “Mr. Hoyer is focused on taking back the House and ensuring we have a Democratic majority in 2019,” said his spokeswoman, Katie Grant.

Democrats are increasingly confident they will flip the House next month. And allies say Hoyer has the experience and savvy to steer Democrats toward progressive policy wins even with President Donald Trump in the White House and Republicans possibly maintaining control of the Senate.

“That’s not gonna be an easy task,” Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said. “Somebody who doesn’t have the experience or hasn’t been in leadership before is gonna be hard-pressed to convince me that they’ll do a better job as majority leader than Steny. I’m not suggesting people shouldn’t run, but I don’t know how they’re gonna make the case that they would do a better job.”

Whether Hoyer’s experience helps or hurts is in the eye of the beholder. The 19-term Maryland Democrat served two terms as majority leader prior to the 2010 wipeout. The late Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa.), a Pelosi ally, challenged Hoyer for majority leader in 2006. Pelosi said she wasn’t involved in the race, and Hoyer crushed Murtha.

After the 2010 debacle, there were some in the Democratic Caucus who felt Hoyer should replace Pelosi. But Hoyer never challenged her, and Pelosi fended off former Rep. Heath Shuler’s (D-N.C.) attempt to unseat her. Pelosi and Hoyer have continued to work closely together, even if they occasionally disagree on policy positions.

Some younger Democratic incumbents and challengers argue that 2019 should be a time for new leadership, a clean slate that doesn’t include Pelosi, Hoyer or Clyburn. That won’t happen, although there is a faction inside the party that wants it.

“Everyone has to go,” said a current Democrat who didn’t want to be named. “They’re all fine people, I have nothing against any of them. But we need a top down overhaul [of the Democratic Caucus]. If there is a majority, it wasn’t built by the leadership. So we need some change.”

Yet supporters of the Pelosi-Hoyer-Clyburn regime counter that experience is crucial in guiding Democrats through the next two — and final, they hope — years of the Trump administration.

“We want to have somebody who can deal with a Republican president effectively and has that experience as someone who could lead us to keeping our majority and electing a Democratic president,” Pallone said.

Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) told POLITICO he has no concerns about Hoyer’s age. Hoyer will turn 80 next June and was hospitalized with pneumonia this summer.

“Mr. Hoyer is obviously somebody that our caucus has put an awful lot of faith in as a former majority leader, as a whip,” said Kennedy, 38. “He’s got great relationships, he knows the legislative strategy, he knows how to count votes and the conference still has an awful lot of confidence in him.”

Members credit Hoyer as a leader who not only travels the country to help candidates win elections but continues supporting them once they win and get to Capitol Hill. He’s well-liked throughout the caucus and can travel to conservative districts where Pelosi can’t. And members say Hoyer is instrumental in guiding freshmen, offering them advice on everything from setting up their offices to hiring staff to moving legislation.

“The fact that Hoyer’s out there pounding the pavement every day and is always on message and has been a champion for younger members and being more inclusive in the power structure, in the leadership structure, makes him a perfect candidate for a leadership position,” Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) said.

Sewell cast the discussion about potential party leaders in the next Congress as a “big distraction” from winning the House but said “no one is more committed to doing that than Steny Hoyer.” “Many of us are just not necessarily focused on who’s gonna be 1, 2, 3 or 4,” she added, “but clearly Steny will be in the mix.”

Plus, allies say, there is already room in the Democratic hierarchy for fresh faces. With Rep. Joe Crowley’s (D-N.Y.) stunning primary defeat this summer, the No. 4 and 5 leadership positions will be vacant. Crowley will not be in Congress next year to serve as House Democratic Caucus chairman, and Vice Chair Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) is running against Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to succeed him.

“I expect we will have new members of our leadership team,” Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.) said, “and Whip Hoyer has been one of the people encouraging newer members to get involved.”

“Whip Hoyer has been such a great mentor,” said Kuster, who has considered the Maryland Democrat a mentor since she first met him on the campaign trail in 2012. “He was very involved and remains very involved in recruiting and campaigning for candidates all across the country.”

Hoyer, though, quietly covets the elusive speaker’s gavel. And while he won’t challenge Pelosi directly, he would toss his hat in the ring if she failed to secure 218 votes. In that scenario, Hoyer and Clyburn (D-S.C.) have both cast themselves as a “bridge” or “transitional” leader. Clyburn is content serving as the No. 3 in a Democratic-led Congress but would be willing to challenge Hoyer for the speakership if Pelosi is out of the mix.

Neither is the boogeyman Pelosi is to Republicans, and each could argue that he has the experience to be a short-term leader as the caucus considers who else could become speaker.

Hoyer had the edge over Clyburn when the two ran for minority leader after the 2010 election. Pelosi ultimately created a new position — assistant Democratic leader — for Clyburn to keep him in leadership as the No. 3 Democrat, avoiding a major leadership battle before members voted.

Hoyer believes he would still have the upper hand over Clyburn if the two faced off again. And despite his role as a moderate, Hoyer allies insist he’s been a member of the Democratic resistance to Trump from the beginning. And there’s no reason, they argue, that Hoyer can’t be a leader in a caucus poised to become increasingly diverse in the next Congress, even if he is, like most of Washington’s top leaders, an older white man.

“A lot of people are pretty clear that we need another choice, and I think a lot of people are looking at Steny,” said one Democratic lawmaker. “It’s gonna be very complicated dealing with this president going into the election. You need somebody who can deal with the Republicans and be able to manage both sides of our caucus and somebody who knows how the rules work, how the floor works. He would be excellent as one possibility of change, but we don’t know yet who’s running.”

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) indicated that either leader, Hoyer or Clyburn, would have a strong case to become speaker in Pelosi’s absence. “We have a good group of people who could provide leadership and some valuable training for the next generation of leaders in the Democratic Caucus,” he said.

Cleaver, though, said Democrats’ focus should be on winning the midterm elections in November, not winning internal leadership races.

Cleaver told the entire caucus in a private meeting to focus on chasing the rabbit, a story that originates from his childhood, when his grandfather would ask the kids what they wanted for dinner. The answer was always supposed to be “rabbit stew.” Even the kids knew: Before he could put dinner on the table, he would have to catch the rabbit.

“This is the time we run around and do everything we can do to catch that rabbit, which is elusive. I don’t care how big the rabbit is and how slow he appears to be from a distance,” Cleaver said. “It’s still hard to catch. And if we’re hungry enough, we’ll work harder to catch that rabbit. If we are silly, we’ll sit down at the table with the spoons and forks and knives and have an empty plate, arguing over who’s gonna sit at the table and the bowl’s empty.”

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