1. On Capitol Hill, a new generation of House Democrats took the leadership reins from Nancy Pelosi this week. Yet even though he appeared to be on an upward trajectory just a few years ago, David Cicilline today finds himself on the outside looking in as Hakeem Jeffries and company settle into their new jobs. Cicilline tried to change that with his brief last-minute run against Jim Clyburn for the No. 4 leadership position; while the Rhode Islander won praise from some colleagues who wanted the 82-year-old South Carolinian to leave with Pelosi, many others were puzzled or even frustrated by his challenge. Regardless, the gambit was over after only 24 hours, with Cicilline stepping aside right before the vote. Cicilline allies have been left scratching their heads about the strategy; his office has had little to say beyond pointing out he spotlighted the lack of LGBTQ representation in the new leadership. What’s ahead for Cicilline? He’s only 61, and faces no risk of losing his seat anytime soon in the ever-bluer 1st District. But he will lose his subcommittee chairman’s gavel in January when Republicans retake the majority, leaving him just weeks to try and pass his high-priority antitrust legislation during the lame duck session. Going forward, one way Cicilline will remain prominent is as leader of the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus and its affiliated fundraising PAC. He also knows how to garner headlines, like with his recent bill to bar Donald Trump from running again. And he has laid down a marker to seek the No. 4 job whenever Clyburn retires.
2. Taking a longer view, it’s widely assumed that David Cicilline will try to switch chambers and win one of Rhode Island’s two U.S. Senate seats when Jack Reed or Sheldon Whitehouse steps aside. But he could be waiting awhile. Whitehouse is only 67 and has already indicated plans to seek another six-year term in 2024. Reed will be 77 when his current term ends in 2026, but people close to the senior senator expect him to stay in place for at least one more term after that. If he did, Reed would tie the record of the man he succeeded — Claiborne Pell — as Rhode Island’s longest-serving senator. (Pell retired at age 78 after 36 years in the job.)
3. The longevity of Democratic senators, of course, is one of the reasons Sheldon Whitehouse spent this week making a second attempt to get his caucus colleagues to prohibit anyone serving as both a committee chair and a member of leadership. The clear target is Illinois’ Dick Durbin, who is the only obstacle in the way of Whitehouse becoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Durbin currently holds that position as well as the job of majority whip, making him the No. 2 Democrat behind Chuck Schumer. Durbin didn’t hide his exasperation with Whitehouse, telling Politico: “He did this two years ago to me. Now he’s put Amy [Klobuchar] and Debbie [Stabenow] in the boat with me. He does very well for himself. And yet he continues this campaign.” Whitehouse’s colleagues rejected his idea for a second time when they voted by secret ballot Thursday. “I had my vote, the caucus has spoken, and I go forward uncomplainingly,” Whitehouse told me in a statement afterwards. “We did well, but not enough to win.” One interesting wrinkle: Jack Reed’s office didn’t respond Friday when asked whether Reed voted for or against his fellow Rhode Islander’s proposal. He himself benefits from a caucus waiver that lets Reed have seats on two “A” committees, Armed Services and Appropriations, which isn’t otherwise allowed.
4. And speaking of the world’s most exclusive club, retiring Vermont U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy tells a funny story about Jack Reed in his new memoir, “The Road Taken,” which came out in August. It’s about an official trip they took to Cuba in 1999, which included a dinner with Fidel Castro. Leahy writes, “I can’t say there were any breakthroughs, but I did break the ice of formality. I asked Jack Reed, a West Point graduate who stood five feet seven inches on a good day, to tell Castro exactly who we were and how important I was. Jack smiled and indulged a long-running joke that embodied our ‘Mutt and Jeff’ vaudeville routine when we traveled together. In fluent Spanish, he told Castro, ‘The big guy feels he is the important one, so be nice to him, but I’m the go-to guy, and if you need something, see me.'”
5. Mounting unsuccessful challenges to more senior colleagues isn’t the only thing Senator Whitehouse and Congressman Cicilline have in common these days. Both are also peddling new books, and so far Whitehouse can claim bragging rights. According to The NPD Group, Whitehouse’s book “The Scheme” has sold nearly 5,000 copies in print so far, while Cicilline’s book “House on Fire” has sold about 1,400 copies in print and digital editions.
6. An election offers fresh, hard data about where voters stand, including which corners of the state have the strongest partisan leanings. So where do the two parties run up their biggest margins in contested General Assembly races? In the House, Democrats did best in District 4 on the East Side of Providence, where incumbent Rep. Rebecca Kislak received over 88% of the vote against Republican Alex Cannon — even higher than the lofty 87% she got in 2020 and 2018. Republicans’ best House showing was in District 41, covering Scituate and part of Cranston, where incumbent Rep. Robert Quattrocchi’s margin ticked up to 68% against Democrat James Safford. Over in the Senate, the top Democrat was incumbent Tiara Mack, who got 84% in Providence’s District 6, while the top Republican was incumbent Gordon Rogers, who got 64% in District 21 (Coventry, Foster, Scituate and West Greenwich). Of course, dozens of incumbent lawmakers faced no challenger at all, so there could be districts that would have leaned even harder in one direction had the other party fielded a candidate.
7. Steph Machado has five things you need to know about the start of retail cannabis sales in Rhode Island. Kim Kalunian also spoke with Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commissioner Kimberly Roy about lessons learned across the border.
8. Transition news, Part I: Secretary of State-elect Gregg Amore has announced the senior team that will be around him when he succeeds Nellie Gorbea come January. Serving in the top job as chief of staff will be LeeAnn Byrne, who is currently deputy chief of staff in the treasurer’s office. The rest of the roster: Shelby Maldonado, deputy secretary of state and director of operations; Rob Rock, deputy secretary of state and director of administration; Kathy Placencia, director of elections; Michelle Arias Santabay, director of intergovernmental affairs; Faith Chadwick, director of communications; and Eileen Sweeney, director of community outreach and engagement.
9. Transition news, Part II: General Treasurer-elect James Diossa hasn’t announced any staffers yet, though Gonzalo Cuervo is expected to be his chief of staff. But this week Diossa did announce former RIPEC chief John Simmons as the leader of his transition team, which is being co-chaired by longtime Democratic powerbroker Don Sweitzer and Bank of America executive Jay Placencia. Also on Diossa’s transition committee: Marvin Abney, Liz Beretta-Perik, Donato Bianco, Liz Catucci, Bob Cusack, Kelly DiBiasio, Walter Felag, Gary Furtado, Oscar Mejías, Frank Flynn, Bradford M. Gibbs, Tom Giordano, Don Grebien, Russell Jeffrey, Sally Lapides, Matthew Lopes Jr., Larry Purtill, Lisa Ranglin, Kelly Rogers, Jay Ryan, Neil Steinberg, Catherine Taylor and Louis Yip.
10. There was more proof of Gina Raimondo’s rising star last weekend, when The New York Times ran a front-page, above-the-fold profile of the commerce secretary describing her as “the most important phone call in Washington that many chief executives can make” and “one of President Biden’s most trusted cabinet officials.” The article went into detail about the potential risks Raimondo faces as she prepares to hand out nearly $100 billion in subsidies to semiconductor companies under the CHIPS Act, an amount roughly 10 times larger than her agency’s usual budget. Of course, courting controversy in the awarding of large sums of money is nothing new for Raimondo, who faced scrutiny in Rhode Island for allocations she made as treasurer (hedge funds) and governor (Commerce RI subsidies).
11. On the road again: Governor McKee is spending the weekend in New Orleans, where he’s attending a meeting of the Democratic Governors Association; he joined four of his counterparts for a news conference Friday afternoon. McKee and his chief of staff, Tony Afonso, return to Rhode Island on Sunday. The governor has kept a relatively low profile since the election, with his office only scheduling one public event — Wednesday’s Christmas tree lighting — since he returned from a two-week vacation. Aides say McKee has been spending a lot of time in meetings preparing his budget plan, which is due next month. He also announced the departure of another senior official, Health Insurance Commissioner Patrick Tigue, whose last day was Friday; Tigue’s chief of staff, Cory King, will serve as interim commissioner.
12. Brown University President Christina Paxson is our guest on this week’s Newsmakers, and we covered a lot of ground, from the school’s newly announced research agreement with Lifespan and Care New England to whether she thinks Dr. Ashish Jha will ever return to Providence. (Yes.) Paxson also shared her thinking ahead of upcoming negotiations with Brett Smiley over Brown’s PILOT payments to Providence, as the current deal is set to expire in May. “I think we would all benefit from a less transactional model and one where our interests are more aligned and able to bring Brown’s not just financial resources but also our intellectual resources — everything we do to benefit the city,” she said. You can watch the whole show here or Sunday at 10 a.m. on TV.
13. Rhode Island will soon have a new Catholic bishop: Richard Henning, who is currently auxiliary bishop in Rockville Centre, New York. Henning won’t officially join the Diocese of Providence until Jan. 26, when a Mass of Reception will be held to formally install him as coadjutor bishop, meaning he will effectively serve as Bishop Tobin’s apprentice for a period of time before succeeding him. That full transition could come as soon as April, when Tobin reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75 and is required to submit his resignation to Pope Francis. Henning gave early indications that he may cut a more moderate profile than the famously outspoken Tobin, telling reporters he “would not imagine I’m going to be somehow influencing public officials.” He also acknowledged he needs to get to know Rhode Island, saying, “I will be kind of a spiritual migrant, so I’m going to take a page from Pope Francis’s call to be a ‘listening church.'”
14. In the final days of the 2nd Congressional District primary, mailers hit Democratic voters’ doorsteps making a progressive attack on Seth Magaziner, with prominent quotations from the left-wing news site Jacobin. The mailers were attributed to a super PAC called “Ocean State Forward” whose donors were anonymous at the time. New FEC filings finally reveal where the group’s money came from: nearly all of its funding — $100,000 — came from a Louisiana lawyer named Adrea Heebe. The group’s other two donors, Alexander Bok and Andrea Larson, separately made maximum donations to 2nd District candidate Sarah Morgenthau, giving at least a clue as to who the effort might have been aimed at helping.
15. Based on recent trends, Decision Desk’s Zachary Donnini says it’s now Democrats, not Republicans, who hold a structural advantage in U.S. House elections.
16. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — Brown University President Christina Paxson. Watch Sunday at 5:30 a.m. on WPRI 12 or 10 a.m. on Fox Providence, or listen on the radio Sundays at 6 p.m. on WPRO. You can also subscribe to Newsmakers as a podcast on iTunes (or wherever you get your podcasts). See you back here next Saturday morning.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook