Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) on Wednesday announced a bid to join the top tiers of Democratic leadership, challenging Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) for the No. 4 spot within the party brass in the next Congress.
The move, announced just moments before Democrats were set to vote on their next crop of leaders, came as a surprise.
Clyburn had announced earlier in the month that he would cede his third-ranking spot next year, but would seek to remain in the top tiers of leadership at the No. 4 assistant leader position, arguing the South needed representation in the top ranks.
And until Wednesday morning, it was thought he would be running unopposed.
But Cicilline, who rose to become the first openly gay leader in Congress when he led the Democrats’ messaging arm in 2017, said the LGBTQ community deserves a leadership spot of its own. He is currently the chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, and cited the recent fatal shooting at a gay bar in Colorado as a driving factor behind his bid.
He also noted that LGBTQ+ members in House Democratic leadership lost their races in this month’s midterms: Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chair of the caucus’ campaign arm, and Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), the freshman representative to leadership, both failed to secure reelection.
“A few days before Thanksgiving, our country was torn apart by yet another mass shooting at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs. It reminded me immediately of the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 and how we came together as a caucus to demand action on gun safety legislation by organizing the first ever sit-in on the House floor,” Cicilline wrote Wednesday in a letter to fellow Democrats.
“Later that year, I decided to run for DPCC Co-Chair because I wanted to help serve our Caucus and represent the LGBTQ community in leadership. After the shooting in Colorado Springs, I feel the same sense of duty and responsibility to serve in House leadership again,” he added.
The letter arrived shortly before Democrats were poised to vote on their top three leaders in the next Congress. The vote for the No. 4 position, which Clyburn and Cicilline are seeking, is expected to come on Thursday.
It’s unclear how competitive the contest will be.
Clyburn, a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, has been the third-ranking House Democrat for almost 20 years. And his endorsement of Joe Biden in the 2020 Democratic primaries was crucial to Biden’s ascension to the White House, solidifying Clyburn’s position as a Palmetto State kingmaker.
Yet Clyburn also infuriated a number of colleagues when he announced his bid to remain in leadership next year. That marked a stark contrast to Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who will both step out of leadership altogether, and it upended the plans of some up-and-coming Democrats who are vying to rise in the ranks.
Specifically, Clyburn’s decision forced Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), who had initially indicated he would seek the assistant leader position, to go after the caucus chairmanship instead. That forced Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) to drop his bid for caucus chair to seek a soon-to-be-created position as the chair of the Democrats’ messaging arm — a promotion, but less than Neguse had wanted.
In a closed-ballot vote, the lingering animosities could haunt Clyburn, especially among younger lawmakers who had presumed that Clyburn would be joining Pelosi and Hoyer in stepping out of leadership next year.
It’s not the first time Cicilline has sought to rise in the ranks. In 2020, he made a bid for assistant Speaker but ultimately lost to Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), who is poised to become the second-ranking Democrat in the next Congress, replacing Hoyer.
Cicilline said it was always his intention to run for the role again if Clark were to move on.
“As many of you will remember, I ran for Assistant Speaker previously and after falling short last time I told many of you that I planned to run again once Assistant Speaker Clark was elected to another position,” Cicilline wrote to colleagues. “Now that the position will be vacant, I am asking for your support once again.”
Cicilline has emerged as one of Capitol Hill’s most ardent champions of federal efforts to rein in corporate monopolies, particularly in the technology industry. His package of antitrust bills passed through the House in September.
Cicilline, who served as an impeachment manager during President Trump’s first impeachment, also made headlines earlier this month when he circulated a letter previewing legislation that seeks to prevent Trump from holding office in the future.
The bill would utilize a statute in the 14th Amendment that says individuals should not hold any office if they “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the [U.S.], or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”
Cicilline says he’s still pushing to vote on the resolution in the waning weeks of the lame-duck session, though the bill has not yet been introduced.
—Updated at 11:42 a.m.