One day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her top two lieutenants said they would step down as the top House Democrats, Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.) announced Friday that she will run for the number two position in the caucus.
Clark’s move is part of Democrats’ desire to quickly establish a new set of leaders after having the same three members at the top — Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for 16 years.
Clark is running for the number two position, which Hoyer, who has served in leadership for 36 years, has held since 2003. Hoyer announced Thursday afternoon that he will not seek a leadership post in the next Congress, paving the way for Clark.
“I have the track record of bringing people and solutions together, and I have built trust across the caucus in different ideological corners, geographic parts of our caucus by listening and really knowing the issues that members care about where they need to be able to deliver for their districts,” Clark said in an interview.
Friday morning Clark sent a letter to her colleagues announcing her run.
In the letter, provided to The Washington Post, she wrote that Democrats have “defied expectations” by winning a “historically close margin” in the House. “Now we must be tough, agile, and united to stop the Republican House Majority’s dangerous agenda and take back the House,” she wrote.
Clark would be the second woman, behind Pelosi, in history to serve in one of the top two positions of House leadership.
Clark’s entry into the race is yet another long-awaited move to transition the leadership to a new, younger class of lawmakers. Some Democrats have been calling on the top three to step aside for several Congresses. Only Pelosi made a commitment in 2018 and again in 2020 that this would be her last term.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) is expected to officially announce Friday that he is running for Democratic leader and Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) is expected to announce he is running for the number three leadership post.
Jeffries, Clark and Aguilar have been waiting to take the reins and have positioned themselves among their colleagues as the next generation of Democratic leadership.
The changing of the guard is bittersweet for rank-and-file members who are excited but also nervous about losing monumental figures in the modern history of the party who knew how to count votes, raise gobs of money and negotiate among their own members, the Senate and the president.
“We’re going to plug away and do the best we can to improve the lives of all of our constituents,” Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) said. “I have faith in the new leadership.”
Clark, 59, is running for the whip position, responsible for counting and rounding up support or opposition on key votes. It is a much easier job in the minority to keep the party united against a slim House Republican majority focused on investigating the Biden administration and blocking the president’s agenda.
Clark comes from a deep blue district that includes some Boston suburbs. She won reelection with 74 percent of the vote, an important factor for members of the leadership who can focus on reelecting their colleagues and not on their own race.
She has been laying the groundwork for a prime leadership position for years. She was first elected to Congress in a special election replacing then-Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) in 2013. Four years later she was chosen by her colleagues to serve in Democratic leadership as vice chair of the caucus and rose to the number four slot, assistant speaker, in 2020.
More recently, Clark has been doing the work to line up her colleagues’ support, traveling to 19 states to campaign and raising $12 million for fellow Democrats ahead of the midterms. She co-hosted a party for the incoming freshman class Wednesday night with Jeffries and Aguilar.
“I do think it’s time for us to have a generational change in our leadership,” Rep. Colin Allred (D-Tex.) said, while thanking the current leadership team that he said has “led us through, I think, one of the most productive Congresses in modern history.”
No one has announced they will challenge Clark. House Democrats will hold their leadership elections on Nov. 30.
Clark had spent the past several weeks solidifying her support with members and mobilizing the support needed in case Hoyer, or any other member, decided to run.
Central to her approach as a member of leadership would continue to be her focus on women and families. In Massachusetts, before serving in the state legislature she was a lawyer for the state’s Office of Child Care Services.
As a member of the “sandwich generation,” taking care of young children at the same time as elderly parents, Clark said women’s struggles are always front and center for her. She is a member of the Women’s Caucus and has been instrumental in working with members to message around access to abortions. She worked to enable federal workers to have expanded fertility benefits and child care, and to provide federal support for child-care providers during the pandemic.
Clark, who said the majority of her donors are women, said the midterm elections showed that women’s voices are powerful and their needs must propel the policies of the Democratic Party. She said she became increasingly frustrated during the midterms because abortion and the economy were considered separate issues. “Deciding when and if to have children,” she said, “is such a fundamental economic security issue.”
She has worked to build relationships with members across the caucus over the years.
Through her role recruiting candidates to run in red districts in 2018, she forged a deep bond with moderate Democrats most at risk of losing their reelections. She mentored new members in her role as vice chair of the caucus. As a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, she is in line with the most liberal wing of the party.
“Katherine does a great job of being able to straddle and prioritize — how do we get to a consensus product?” Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) said.
Her friends and allies said she is adept at building personal connections.
“She knows about their children, she knows about their spouses, she knows about their parents, and who just had to have surgery and who’s not going to be here to vote next week because they’re at a funeral,” said Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.), who rooms with Clark when they are in Washington.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), her home state colleague and a proud progressive, has been one of her lead boosters. To make the case for Clark, he pointed to the work she did with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) to organize a sit-in on the House floor in 2016 to protest gun violence.
“She has a lot of guts and [is] not afraid to take a stand,” McGovern said.