The fight over who will lead House Democrats next year got its first public entrance Tuesday as Rep. Linda T. Sanchez made her official bid to lead the House Democratic Caucus.
Sanchez, of Whittier, currently vice chairwoman of the Democratic Caucus, sent a letter to her colleagues Tuesday confirming her interest in moving up the leadership ranks.
“If the American people instill their trust in House Democrats, we must show them that we are ready to lead on the first day,” Sanchez wrote. “A new Congress gives us the opportunity to take a full assessment of what changes we need to make to ensure our success going forward. However, it is clear that if we wait until next year to have these discussions, it will be too late. We must prepare now.”
The surprise loss by New York Rep. Joseph Crowley, in a primary last month opened the position of caucus chair, the fourth-ranking position in the Democratic leadership. Crowley, a 10-term incumbent once seen as a likely replacement for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, lost to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old Latina activist running her first campaign.
The race to replace Crowley has attracted considerable interest in the House. Wide-open seats in the Democratic leadership occur only rarely.
Making the interest more keen, this opening comes at a time when many Democrats have begun talking about the need for a generational change in the top leadership. The Democrats’ top three leaders in the House — Pelosi of San Francisco, party whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn of South Carolina — are all older than 70 and have held high-ranking positions for more than a decade.
Representatives often spend a year or more building support for a leadership opening, which can provide a stepping stone to one day becoming speaker. With the leadership election likely to take place the week after Thanksgiving, interested members have just a few months to pull together support.
Crowley stopped short of endorsing Sanchez in a statement Tuesday, but called her a “dear friend” and “an extremely valuable part of the Democratic leadership team” who “has a bright future in our caucus."
Others rumored to be interested in the caucus job have avoided a public declaration, saying they are focused on helping their party win back control of the House.
At least a couple of other California representatives are weighing the race.
Oakland’s Rep. Barbara Lee, who lost the vice chair position to Sanchez in 2016 by just two votes, is also talking with colleagues about the position. Though she hasn’t made a decision, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) is already endorsing her for the job.
“She would bring a progressive voice. I don’t think everyone has to agree with every one of her policies. The point is that perspective should be part of the leadership,” Khanna said. “She really deserves to have a seat at the table. She’s in a different league when it comes to being seen as a progressive champion.”
Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Burbank, the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said this week he’s focused on the continuing Russia investigation but he’s not closing the door on seeking a position.
“We need to devote ourselves to making the majority a reality, and then we can figure out who sits in which chair,” Schiff said.
Last fall, Sanchez made waves when she said it was time for new leadership for Democrats in the House. That was a surprising statement from a member of leadership, especially one from Pelosi’s home state.
Sanchez became a noticeably less visible part of the Democrats’ leadership team afterward, and some on Capitol Hill questioned whether breaking rank would end her time in leadership altogether. But an increasing number of Democratic candidates have echoed that desire for new blood, and Sanchez has reiterated her position recently in briefings for reporters meant to raise her profile.
“I think it’s time for that generational change, and whether there is transition or not remains to be seen. I want to be part of that transition because I don’t intend to stay in Congress until I’m in my 70s,” Sanchez told reporters last week.
Aides for Pelosi responded that the middle of a difficult nationwide campaign is not the time to have a conversation about changing the leadership.
“House Democrats are focused on winning in November, and if you are rowing in the opposite direction, you are only helping Republicans,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said at the time.