House Democrats are urging their incoming leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), to move quickly in choosing the head of the party’s campaign arm, warning that a long delay will lend a strategic advantage to Republicans heading into the 2024 presidential cycle.
Jeffries, who is poised to replace outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) at the top of the party next year, has been newly empowered to handpick the leader of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). The powerful post has been an elected position, chosen by the full House Democratic Caucus, since 2016. But that changed last month, post-midterms, when rank-and-file members voted to revert it to an appointment at the discretion of the leader.
The shift grants Jeffries sole authority to choose the figure who will steer the Democrats’ effort to win back control of the lower chamber in 2024 — and represents the single most significant decision of his nascent tenure at the top of the party.
As Jeffries weighs the momentous choice, his Democratic colleagues are urging him to be deliberate — but not chew on it for too long, lest GOP operatives get a leg up on the campaign season.
“I absolutely think we need to get started right away in planning for the next election,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said. “People need to start working to raise the money, talk to constituents.”
Part of the dilemma facing Jeffries is whether to pick among the pair of lawmakers who have already expressed interest in the job, or venture outside of that short list — perhaps to a figure who’s not a sitting member of Congress.
Shortly after the midterms, Reps. Ami Bera (Calif.) and Tony Cárdenas (Calif.) launched campaigns to lead the DCCC next year, a spot being vacated by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (N.Y.), who lost his congressional seat in the midterms. But the new rules for filling the role have altered the playing field dramatically.
“The field’s wide open,” Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) said.
Both Bera and Cárdenas say they have spoken directly to Jeffries since the power of appointment shifted to him. And both are hoping the decision — whatever it is — comes down quickly to ensure that Democrats don’t enter the cycle at a competitive disadvantage.
Fueling their urgency, House Republicans voted just one week after the Nov. 8 midterms to make Rep. Richard Hudson (N.C.) the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) next year.
“I’d encourage him to go soon, because obviously Republicans are recruiting, they’re staffing up. And time is of the essence,” Bera said. “NRCC is already staffing up and they’re ready to hit the ground running,” he continued. “We’ve got a golden opportunity to hit the ground running.”
Cárdenas this week delivered a similar message.
“I think the whole caucus would love to see that we have the next DCCC chair get over there and start working. There’s always a lot to do,” Cárdenas said. “The clock is certain. November of 2024 is gonna come — we can’t add days — so I appreciate his willingness to publicly say that he wants to make a decision soon. And I agree that that makes sense.”
Under the Democrats’ internal rules, Jeffries has until mid-February to make his choice. He’s suggested an announcement will come much earlier — “Sooner rather than later,” he told The Hill on Wednesday — but he hasn’t indicated a more specific timeline.
Meanwhile Jeffries’s allies, including other members of the new leadership team, say there’s still some time to play with to ensure the right person fills the slot.
“There’s a window,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), who will replace Jeffries as the Democratic Caucus chair next year.
Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who was part of the same 2012 freshman class as Jeffries, said he’s spoken with Jeffries and has confidence the process won’t drag on until February — or for any duration that would hurt the Democrats’ chances in 2024.
“We don’t have weeks and weeks. But we’ve got the time it takes for him to come to the conclusion that he thinks is right for the caucus,” Kildee said. “I don’t think anybody expects it will take that long. That would put us behind the eight-ball. But I’ve talked to him about it. He has no intention of waiting that long.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) noted the advantages of allowing Jeffries to choose the DCCC chief, since the two will have to work together closely in plotting the party’s 2024 strategy.
“The leader has been, and I think will continue to be, the biggest fundraiser and [will work] with the DCCC on how to raise it and who to give it to, right?” Hoyer told reporters this month. “Mr. Jeffries, I’m sure, will make a wise decision.”
The decision has been complicated by the identity politics that frequently feature as Democrats fill out their leadership roster each cycle.
Bera and Cárdenas both bring considerable strengths to the table: Bera, 57, a member of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, led the DCCC’s highly successful effort to protect vulnerable incumbents in this year’s midterms. Cárdenas, 59, had led the Hispanic Caucus’s BOLD PAC in cycles past, turning it into a fundraising juggernaut.
Yet the Democrats’ leadership team already features two men from California — Reps. Aguilar and Ted Lieu — leading to some grumbling within the caucus that women have been neglected in the top brass, where Rep. Katherine Clark (Mass.) will be the only woman among the leading six figures next year.
The gender imbalance has led to chatter that Jeffries could be eyeing a woman — perhaps Rep. Suzan DelBene (Wash.) — for the spot. DelBene, a former Microsoft executive, has deep ties to Silicon Valley — a major hub for Democratic fundraising — and she has been interested in the job in the past, running unsuccessfully for the post in 2018.
DelBene this week said she’s “always happy” to see more women in the leadership ranks. “But this particular decision is up to Mr. Jeffries,” she added.
Others are suggesting that Jeffries think further outside the box and look for someone other than a sitting member of Congress. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), who headed the DCCC in the 2020 cycle, floated that idea this week, saying “the whole place should just be reimagined.”
“It is not the most functional place in the world,” she said. “I think the whole place just ought to be rethought.”
Bustos was among a long list of Democrats who emphasized the thankless nature of leading the campaign arm, noting the countless flights around the country, long days away from family and the criticism that showers down if the party underperforms at the polls.
“You’re on a couple of airplanes every weekend for the next two years, and your high point is the day you get the job,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said.
It’s just another of the many challenges facing Jeffries as he deliberates over his pick in the days and, perhaps, weeks to come.
“It’s a miserable job,” quipped Vargas. “Who the hell wants that one?”