WASHINGTON (WPRI) — Just 24 hours after kicking off a surprise run for the position, Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline announced Thursday he wouldn’t seek the No. 4 job in House leadership after all, avoiding a direct challenge to South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn.
A person familiar with the situation told 12 News that Cicilline agreed to step aside after receiving assurances from the new House Democratic leadership, led by New York’s Hakeem Jeffries, that they would ensure an LGBTQ lawmaker is “represented” in leadership.
House Democrats had been scheduled to vote on who should get the job Thursday morning, but Cicilline shared his decision in a speech to the caucus.
Pennsylvania Congresswoman Susan Wild, who is close to Cicilline, told Politico: “David’s speech was eloquent and classy, and reminded us of the importance of our work to protect and support the LGBTQ community. His words brought tears to my eyes.”
But others questioned Cicilline’s actions. California Congressman Jimmy Gomez told Axios that while other lawmakers were “sympathetic” to Cicilline’s points, many were also “probably taken a little bit back with him just floating his name.”
Cicilline’s office said he was unavailable for an interview Thursday.
Cicilline’s 11th-hour challenge against Clyburn was widely viewed as an uphill battle considering the latter’s status as a Democratic elder statesman and one of the most prominent Black elected leaders in Washington.
But the move by Cicilline, 61, also spotlighted frustration among some rank-and-file Democrats that Clyburn, 82, refused to join his colleagues Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer in exiting leadership this month to make way for a new generation. He also pointed out that Democrats were poised to elect a leadership team that included no LGBTQ+ Democrats.
Cicilline, first elected in 2010, previously served in a junior leadership role — just four years ago, in fact, he and Jeffries were co-chairs of House Democrats’ policy and communications panel.
But Cicilline went on in late 2020 to lose a bid for assistant leader to Massachusetts’ Katherine Clark, who on Wednesday was promoted to Democrats’ No. 2 job. Still, his profile has continued to rise outside leadership thanks to his high-profile role in the impeachment of then-President Trump over the Jan. 6 riot as well as on antitrust issues and same-sex marriage.
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats on Thursday voted to reject a rules change proposed by U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse that would have barred members of the caucus from holding a committee chairmanship and a senior leadership job. The proposal was aimed at Illinois’ Dick Durbin, who is minority whip and Judiciary Committee chairman.
Durbin had publicly criticized Whitehouse for targeting him, but some lower-seniority senators were believed to share the Rhode Islander’s frustration about veteran Democrats refusing to distribute power more evenly.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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