There is no shortage of speculation over who might succeed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi if the 81-year-old Democrat makes this her final year as leader of the House Democrats.
But with Pelosi refusing to share her plans, the name-dropping taking place behind the scenes has spawned successor speculation that includes leadership team members Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina.
In 2018, Pelosi made a deal with restive Democrats that she would not continue as the top House Democratic leader beyond 2022, according to Roll Call.
As part of the deal, multiple Democrats who were against her at the time agreed to drop their opposition to her speaker bid. Since then, while acknowledging the deal, Pelosi has refused to say if she plans to abide by it, making some theorize she will not hand over power.
A contrary theory runs that with Republicans considered likely to gain a majority in the House, Pelosi will take that as her time to call it quits, taking her team with her.
A new report in The Hill this week suggests that Hoyer and Clyburn might not be ready to walk away from Congress, but with swirling theories, any scenario could be possible.
In an early January report on the leadership drama, Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona turned aside a question with a joke, saying, “Of course, we’re politicians; this is all we do,” according to Politico.
Others said very serious attention is being paid to making a smooth transition.
“My gut would tell me that this would be her last term,” House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat, told The Hill. “I see a lot of people who would be the presumed successors donating a lot of money to their colleagues.”
The package deal that could take place if Team Pelosi quits en masse would involve Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York, and Caucus Vice Chairman Pete Aguilar of California, according to The Hill.
But as in all potential contests, names are bandied about, including those of Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington, and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California.
“I think it’s pretty clear that our next tier of leadership is going to be Hakeem, Katherine and Pete,” The Hill quoted what it said was “one moderate Democratic lawmaker” it did not name. “I think probably 80 percent of people here believe that.”
The source noted that the fall elections could make the decision for those who do not make it themselves.
“If we go through a bloodbath, I think people are going to be prepared for new leadership,” the moderate Democrat said.
Others said writing Pelosi’s political exit is premature, given that no one is better at getting things done in the convoluted world of Congressional politics.
“I support the speaker; I think she’s done a really good job. She has been on point, and she’s delivered on all the caucus priorities, so I just don’t see who would replace her at this point. I can’t envision anyone right now,” Democratic Rep. Norma Torres of California said.
“I don’t see how she has not met the demands of this younger generation, so I don’t see any of them as ready to step up and lead an entire caucus, a very diverse caucus.”
Despite such comments, there also is a sense of change with at least 26 Democrats planning to retire, many of whom have served for multiple years and have developed a loyalty to Pelosi that their replacements might not share.
There also remains the potential that Pelosi’s lieutenants want to be the boss.
“Clyburn is acting like he’s going to stay. I’m hearing he’s going to stay,” Yarmuth said, according to The Hill, adding that Hoyer could decide to stay as well.
“It’s a question of whether he has support or not. He’s made a lot of friends over the years. He’d probably be hard to dislodge.”
One concern was shared by Democratic Rep. Anthony Brown of Maryland in talking to Politico.
“She still has to govern; we need her to be strong. I would suggest to those who might want to succeed her or move up in leadership, do it quietly, do it behind the scenes,” he said. “Elections around here start early.”