Washington — Speaker Nancy Pelosi will create a new leadership post for Rep. Jim Clyburn as Democrats prepare to cede control of the House of Representatives to Republicans in January.
Pelosi’s intervention helps House Democrats avoid an internal fight with racial overtones at a time when they’re still licking their wounds from their midterm drubbing.
Clyburn, the current majority whip and the highest-ranking African American in Congress, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland were competing for the Democrats’ No. 2 House leadership spot, minority whip, when the new legislative session starts.
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Pelosi, after spending the week trying to broker a deal between the two men, detailed the compromise Saturday in a letter to other Democratic lawmakers.
“Should I receive the privilege of serving as House Democratic leader, I will be very honored to nominate our outstanding colleague, Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, to serve in the number three House Democratic position,” Pelosi said, adding that the new post would be called assistant leader.
Clyburn asked his Democratic peers to back the Pelosi deal in a letter of his own.
“The best way to resolve this issue, maintain diversity in the leadership and cohesion in our caucus is to pull up another chair to the leadership table with a substantive, well-defined portfolio that will contribute in a meaningful way to our important work and to regaining the majority,” he wrote.
While Pelosi averted one major spat among her ranks, she faces a possible challenge to her own top post.
Top Democratic aides said Rep. Heath Shuler, a North Carolina conservative Democrat who’s criticized Pelosi, would likely announce his long-shot candidacy for House minority leader during an appearance on one of the Sunday talk shows.
Republicans reclaimed control of the House in the Nov. 2 elections by gaining more than 60 House seats, with a handful of races still too close to call.
House Republicans and Democrats will choose their leaders Wednesday in closed-door votes. Current Minority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, is running unopposed for speaker.
The Hoyer-Clyburn contest for minority whip had taken on racial overtones in recent days.
Thirty lawmakers, none of them black, released a letter of support for Hoyer. Rep. Barbara Lee, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, issued a statement backing Clyburn on behalf of the influential group.
The Rev. Al Sharpton and Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson warned that dropping Clyburn from the House Democrats’ leadership ranks would offend African-Americans, who are among the party’s most reliable voters.
While isn’t clear what Clyburn’s new duties will be, he’s often spoken of his ability to bridge differences among House Democratic factions, including women, blacks, Hispanics and a bloc of moderates known as Blue Dogs.
“We must be able to connect and communicate with the significant African-American, Latino and Asian American communities in this country, most especially in marginal districts,” Clyburn said Saturday. “The road back to the majority runs largely through these caucuses and the communities they represent.”