Capitol Hill is buzzing with the notion that U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver might be in line for a spot on House Democrats’ leadership team.
“I’m not plotting and planning,” Cleaver said. But he said he’d serve if his colleagues chose him.
The rumors were featured Thursday in a lengthy profile on the former Kansas City mayor in Roll Call, a Capitol Hill publication that tracks legislative news as well as behind-the-scenes maneuvering among members of Congress.
According to the article, “members, aides and operatives have started throwing out (Cleaver’s) name as someone who could step up in House Democratic leadership if and when there’s an opening.”
The report suggested that Cleaver’s reputation as a loyal party soldier and proponent of civility — a Methodist minister who regularly pens “Dear Colleague” letters to other lawmakers, urging them to tone down bipartisan rancor — makes him a “competitive candidate” for election to the Democratic leadership team in the House.
That group includes Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra of California.
Cleaver acknowledged that he’s discussed the possibility of a leadership role with some people. He shied away from naming names, however.
“You know I’m not the only person that people have said something to, so I just thank them for thinking about me and I keep moving,” Cleaver said. “I’m not at all trying to give any signals, either subtle or otherwise, and I don’t think I play coy, unless I’m tricking myself.”
The congressman said he’d accept a leadership spot if his fellow Democrats asked.
“If that call comes, if the cause is just, if my conscience is clear and if my constituents receive benefit, then I would serve,” he said.
For now, the only job due to come open is Becerra’s caucus chairmanship, which will expire because of term limits. Cleaver said colleague Joseph Crowley, a representative from New York, was lined up to take that position.
“I’m one of his biggest supporters,” he said.
The Roll Call article speculated that Cleaver might take over for Clyburn, 74, if he decides to retire in coming years, especially if the Congressional Black Caucus fields a candidate. Clyburn is the only black member of the House Democratic leadership, and Cleaver previously served as chairman of the Congresssional Black Caucus.
David Bositis, a longtime analyst of black politics, said Cleaver, who is 70, was among probably a half-dozen Democratic members who aspired to leadership roles.
Clyburn is the only Southerner in the leadership, so he might be more likely to be replaced by someone from the South, such as Terri Sewell of Alabama, Bositis said.
“It’s nice to be talked about,” he said, “but I’m not sure that Cleaver is in the top tier (of candidates). … Should one of these positions open up, there’s going to be at least three or four people going after whatever spot is open.”
For now, Cleaver seems to be enjoying the speculation and the attention it brings to his civility campaign. He credits that campaign — and his ability to make friends with die-hard liberals as well as centrist “Blue Dog” Democrats — for putting his name into play for leadership.
“There are people who think that this political tribalism has gotten this whole nation into a bind to the degree that we have difficulty turning out legislation that is helpful to the people who vote for us,” Cleaver said. “So you hear people say, ‘Look, we can’t continue to fight over everything,’ and I’m one of the people who have been preaching that.”