Democratic lawmakers and aides say Rep. Joe Crowley’s (D., N.Y.) maneuvers to become the Democrats’ next House leader are no secret, despite his maintained stance that he has no such intention.
Nearly 30 Democratic lawmakers and aides interviewed by Politico generally agreed: Crowley is making moves to succeed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) in hopes of being the next speaker of the House. Crowley, who serves as the Democratic Caucus chairman, said he’s focused on Democrats winning the House and doesn't have plans to challenge Pelosi, but his travel schedule has been reminiscent of a party leader’s.
Some Democrats want him to go for it.
"I think Pelosi and Hoyer ought to take the message from [Paul] Ryan’s retirement and realize it’s time for this caucus to move on. And I think Crowley fits the bill to be our next leader," Rep. Filemon Vela (D., Texas) said.
Vela’s comments reflect a wider dissatisfaction with Pelosi, whose leadership has been called "toxic" to the party’s image. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D., N.J.) also gave Crowley an unsolicited endorsement in March, saying the House’s culture was changing and Democrats ought to "start fresh."
Despite growing criticism of Pelosi, Crowley faces obstacles to reaching the party’s top spot as he currently sits not just below Pelosi but also Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D, Md.). Crowley and Hoyer used to be close friends, but according to another Democratic lawmaker, their relationship deteriorated as Crowley aligned himself more closely with Pelosi.
"I think there’s a sense of obsequiousness that Joe spent five or six years to get back in her good graces and if he had to jettison a long time commitment and friendship to Steny, so be it," the Democratic lawmaker said, asking not to be named.
Crowley’s office has said the congressman’s full attention is on winning back the House for the Democratic Party.
"Joe Crowley’s sole focus is putting Democrats in majority control of the House," Crowley’s spokeswoman Lauren French said in a statement. "The only way issues like expanding health care, creating good-paying jobs, growing the economy, and enacting gun safety will get addressed is by electing Democrats."
Crowley will likely have a number obstacles, including rivals, if he does choose to run for the leadership spot. If the Democrats were to deliver a majority in the House in 2018, it would strengthen Pelosi’s hand, and she maintains she is a "master legislator" who helps the party.
"Nancy Pelosi always has the votes," Pelosi’s spokesman Drew Hammill said.
Crowley has so far recognized Pelosi’s status in the party, even introducing her as "soon-to-be speaker again" at a recent event.
In addition, some lawmakers brought up the potential problem Crowley poses for the party’s diversity message, since the party’s leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, is also a white man from New York.
Rep. James Clyburn (D., S.C.) is the assistant minority leader and the highest-ranking African American in Congress, and he said he will seek leadership again.
"I’m not planning on retirement and I’m not stepping aside for anybody," Clyburn said.
Since Crowley has waited behind obstacles of various kinds over the years, some members of Congress said he could end up being passed over if he hesitates to act.
"Nobody gives you power; you have to take it," one younger lawmaker, requesting anonymity, said of Crowley. "And there’s no clear pathway to doing it, there will always be obstacles."