Lawmakers in the Congressional Black Caucus back Nancy Pelosi for speaker over one of their own members, Rep. Marcia Fudge — a bad sign for the former CBC chair who’s considering a challenge to the California Democrat.
The CBC has been spoiling to elevate a group member into one of the top two positions in Democratic leadership for years, with current CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond writing as recently as two weeks ago that having a black speaker or majority leader was a top priority.
But in interviews with eight CBC members about a potential Fudge bid for speaker, all but two members said they would back Pelosi over Fudge. Other CBC members on Thursday tweeted or put out statements of support for Pelosi, including Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the most powerful African-American in the House and a close Fudge friend and ally.
“She knows that, she knows that, she knows I’m for Pelosi,” Clyburn said of Fudge in a short interview in the Capitol.
“She’s a great leader, and I support her more than 100 percent,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights icon, of Pelosi.
Fudge, 66, has not formally declared for the position. She is part of a group of anti-Pelosi critics who don’t want the woman who has led the party for 16 years to be the speaker in the next Congress.
They say 17 incumbents and incoming freshmen have signed a letter vowing they will not support Pelosi on the floor — though POLITICO has only verified 12 of these names with the members or their offices. The group has been trying to find someone to challenge Pelosi so that members who don’t want to vote for her can have someone else to support.
Fudge’s bid would nullify Pelosi allies’ suggestion that a vote against her would be ‘anti-woman.’ Fudge would also be the first African-American to ever serve as speaker — and the first black woman to be in leadership.
Still, some CBC members didn’t think that was the most important factor in a leadership race.
“I just think you put your best generals forward, your battle-tested generals, and I think that leader is Pelosi,” said CBC member Rep. Val Demings of Florida, who backs Pelosi. “We have to realize that we’re at a point right now where we’re not the ‘girls club’ or the ‘black club’ or the ‘Hispanic club.’ We’re looking to… be successful in moving the agenda that supports the American people.”
Still, that feeling wasn’t universal.
Richmond told reporters that should Fudge decide to run, he’d be on “Team Marcia.” And the Louisiana Democrat predicted that his fellow CBC members currently backing Pelosi over Fudge would change their tune should she actually jump into the race.
“I think Marcia would be a good speaker,” Richmond said. “I’m not anti-Pelosi, but whatever Marcia does, I’m very pro-Marcia.”
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri also said he was “very intrigued” by the idea, calling Fudge “one of my closest friends.”
“If Marcia is very serious [about running], it could create some tumult in the Democratic caucus,” Cleaver said. “She would create a whole new dynamic that might cause some people to” change their mind on the Pelosi question.
In a CBC letter sent just days before the election, Richmond reaffirmed the group’s desire to have a black lawmaker in the No. 1 or No. 2 position.
“Over the past couple of weeks, several of our colleagues have respectfully shared letters of intent expressing interest in various House Democratic Caucus leadership positions,” Richmond said in a “Dear Colleague” letter. “It is within that context that I’d like to reiterate that if there is any change in our top leadership positions the Democratic Members of the CBC endorse African-American representation in at least one of the two top positions of elected House Democratic Caucus leadership.”
That notion, however, clearly doesn’t extend to Fudge when Pelosi still wants the job — at least not for much of the CBC.
Even several black women in the group eager to see an African-American female leading the party are sticking with Pelosi over Fudge.
Rep. Karen Bass tweeted that she was still with her fellow California Democrat on Thursday afternoon. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas also reaffirmed her loyalty to Pelosi to reporters, even as she had nothing but praise for Fudge.
“[Fudge] has been a real key leader in the conference,” she said, adding: “I have expressed my support for Nancy… But [Fudge] is a fantastic person but I just hope that we can work together.”
The situation clearly created some discomfort for some CBC members. Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin would not say anything when asked about the matter Thursday, telling reporters she had to get to the caucus meeting right away. On Wednesday, Moore had said kind words about Pelosi.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, who is currently running for caucus chair, wasn’t so shy, declaring “I continue to support Leader Pelosi.”
First elected in 2008, Fudge was a mayor in Ohio and a local prosecutor before coming to Congress. She previously led the CBC and served as Democratic National Committee chair, and she is well respected in the caucus.
“I’m supporting Pelosi, I’m supporting Hoyer, and I hope they’re supporting me,” Clyburn said. “But I’ll never tell anybody not to run for [something], not even my own children.”
Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine