WASHINGTON — Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island announced Wednesday that he will challenge longtime leader Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina for the No. 4 spot in the House Democratic leadership.
Cicilline’s offer to be the assistant caucus leader comes after some younger Democratic members expressed frustration with Clyburn’s decision to remain in party leadership after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi , and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer will announce their plans to step aside for a new generation.
In a letter to fellow Democrats on Wednesday, Cicilline, 61, suggested he felt compelled to run for the leadership job after the recent shooting in Colorado Springs at the Club Q LGBTQ nightclub.
“With so much at stake, I believe it is critical that the House Democratic Leadership team fully reflect the diversity of our caucus and the American people by including an LGBTQ+ member on the leadership table, which is why I decided to run for Assistant Leader,” he wrote.
Democrats chose a new slate of young members to lead their party on Wednesday, naming Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, 52, of New York, as minority leader. Jeffries, who will make history as the first African-American legislator to lead a political party’s caucus in either chamber, will join Reps. Katherine Clark, 59, of Massachusetts, and Pete Aguilar, 43, of California, as the three top party leaders. .
The Cicilline-Clyburn race for the No. 4 spot will be decided in another closed-door vote on Thursday.
“I would be humbled and honored to have your support and join Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine Clark and Pete Aguilar as part of the new generation of House leaders,” Cicilline wrote. “As many of you may remember, I ran for Assistant President previously and after coming up short last time, I told many of you that I planned to run again once Assistant President Clark was elected to another position. Now that the position will be vacant, I ask for your support once again.”
Cicilline served as chairman of the House Democratic Communications and Politics Committee, which is considered part of the leadership team, from 2019 to 2021. He has represented his state’s 1st congressional district since 2011.
Clyburn, 82, a beloved figure in Democratic politics and former chair of the Black Caucus, has served in the leadership for years after coming to Congress in 1993. Since his party retook control of the House in 2019, he has been Majority Leader, a role he held after the Democrats seized the House in 2007. From 2011 to 2019, he served as an aide to the Democratic leader and also worked as their caucus chair and vice chair.
Several younger Democrats were upset and surprised by Clyburn’s decision to run for a leadership position.
“The view of the caucus was that the top three leaders could provide advice, but would not have official leadership positions,” a younger Democratic lawmaker told NBC News earlier this month. “Many of us think highly of Jim Clyburn, but these complications will have the potential to split a remarkably unified caucus.”
Another younger Democratic member who supports Cicilline said Wednesday: “I think it’s pretty ridiculous that Nancy had to go… She was the most effective leader ever, and I’m not sure why. [Clyburn] I didn’t have to go with her.”
Clyburn had announced his candidacy for assistant leader before the Thanksgiving break. In an interview Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” he said he wanted to remain in a leadership role so his party would still have representation from the South.
“And look at our leadership, the South is out,” Clyburn said. “And what we’re doing is trying to make sure we’re not leaning too far east or too far west, but keeping what we’ve got here. There is no other southerner among the leaders, and we need the South.”
Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio said she will support Clyburn but that Cicilline has the right to run. “I think she wants to represent her point of view, and she has a right to do so,” Kaptur told NBC News. “Personally, I am committed to Mr. Clyburn. We need some wisdom in the upper ranks.”