Rep. Cedric Richmond, the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in an interview Friday that he's open to re-electing the current senior House Democratic leaders, tamping down talk of a battle for the top two positions if Democrats retake the House majority in next week's midterms.
Richmond's comments came after he wrote a letter this week calling for a CBC member to be in the top leadership spots of the caucus.
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"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 top two positions of elected House Democratic Caucus Leadership," he wrote.
The letter raised questions about whether a CBC member would challenge Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi or Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, the top two Democratic leaders in the House.
But Richmond told CNN that he meant there should be an African-American lawmaker in the top two spots -- only if there's a vacancy that arises. That could mean that if Democrats take the majority next week, the influential CBC could potentially get behind a Democratic leadership team led by Pelosi as speaker and Hoyer as House majority leader and in the No. 3 spot, Rep. James Clyburn, who is black.
"It could be the same three," Richmond told CNN. "I'm not ruling that out."
Asked if he believed any CBC member would challenge either Pelosi or Hoyer to the position, Richmond said: "I'm not hearing anything yet about a challenge to either."
On Thursday, Clyburn, who is the assistant Democratic leader, also threw cold water on talk of a challenge for the top, telling Politico:
"I do not expect there to be any change in the number one and number two spots," Clyburn said, referring to Pelosi and Hoyer. "I will pursue the number three spot which I held before."
Clyburn served as House majority whip from 2006 to 2010.
Asked if he supported Pelosi's bid to become speaker, Richmond said: "I've always been a Nancy supporter."
But he said he has more questions about Pelosi's recent pitch that she would be a "transitional" leader, saying she needs to spell out her future plans to the caucus.
"Now that she's introduced 'transitional,' what does that mean?" Richmond said.
Richmond's comments are the latest sign that Democrats are eager to avoid a messy succession if they do take the majority. While a number of Democratic candidates have said they would not support Pelosi for speaker, she is the heavy favorite to reclaim the gavel in part because there's no serious opposition to her. The only way a vacancy would arise would be if she fails to get the necessary 218 votes to become speaker on the floor -- and the chances of that occurring increase if Democrats win only a tiny majority on Tuesday.
Richmond said that it's time for an African-American member to be one of the top two leaders "after 233 years," and he defended the efforts by CBC members to help win the Democratic majority on Tuesday.
"If we're going to have a leadership change, then we need to have an African-American member in one of the top two spots," Richmond said.
Jeffries, others eye leadership role
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, another member of the Congressional Black Caucus, is exploring a bid for the top leadership ranks and has been meeting with colleagues to discuss his interest, according to a Democratic source.
The New York Democrat has not specifically stated which position he's eying.
Like Clyburn, his allies privately make the case he could also be the first African-American speaker and argue his dynamic style and rhetoric could make him a formidable attack dog against President Donald Trump.
Jeffries' interest has caused some tension in the CBC, as Richmond and others have been pushing for Clyburn to become speaker one day. In his letter Thursday, Richmond only praised the work of one CBC member by name: Clyburn.
Jeffries, 48, has only been in Congress for three terms, but he's quickly built a large profile for himself through the media and through his relationships across the caucus, including some Republicans both on the Hill and off, such as Jared Kushner while working on criminal justice reform.
A co-chairman of the House Democratic Policy & Communications Committee, which comes up with messaging for the caucus, Jeffries has already worked closely with the highest ranks of leadership. While he's viewed as progressive and part of the progressive caucus, he's also a pragmatist who doesn't espouse all views of his far left colleagues.
Some members in the Democratic caucus have also raised Rep. Karen Bass, another CBC member, as a potential speaker someday. Bass was formerly the speaker of the California state assembly and the first African-American woman in history to lead a state legislative chamber.
At the time she went toe-to-toe with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a celebrity-turned-politician. It's a fact her allies like to bring up given the current environment in Washington, where another celebrity sits in the executive chair.
So far, there are no clear signs that Bass is angling for the position anytime soon.
Meanwhile, Rep. Barbara Lee, who's also a part of the CBC, is running for Democratic caucus chair, the No. 4 position in the caucus.