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Wait, wasn't it supposed to be Republicans fighting over the new Congress?

November 10, 2010 |  3:38 am

House Democrat leaders Steny Hoyer, Nancy Pelosi and James Clyburn

Wait! Wasn't it the Republicans, flush with energy, enthusiasm and enmity from their flood-level midterm victories, who were supposed to start fighting and arguing amongst themselves in Congress?

But no! With only one lesser leadership position up for competition, they're off organizing transition and reform teams, including freshmen representatives. They'll be ready to institute changes as soon as John Boehner gets that oversized speaker's gavel back in his bronze Buckeye hands come January.

Instead, it's the losers who are scrapping loudly with each other as the lame duck Congress begins to unfold and Democrats transition into the party of no.

Here's the problem: Many counted on the humiliated Speaker Nancy Pelosi stepping down as caucus leader given that she led the party team into the worst election losses in more than seven decades. Which would have allowed Maryland's Steny Hoyer (left, in photo above) to....

...become minority leader and James Clyburn of South Carolina (right, above) to remain the powerful party whip.

But San Francisco's Ms. P decided she didn't really do all that bad of a job and wanted to stay as the leader of the now largely liberal caucus, even though she'll soon become the country's first female ex-speaker, without the plane, etc....That leaves Hoyer and Clyburn for the whip slot.

Now, everyone in this trio is at least 70 and has long been infected with Washingtonitis, meaning they're considered indispensable; just ask them. Both Hoyer and Clyburn have been calling colleagues, lining up support and promising who-knows-what.

Over the weekend Hoyer began openly competing by announcing his latest endorsers, which Clyburn saw as kind of pushy.  So he flew back home for a visit. Even Clyburn admits he lags in that department. But the Black Caucus member was a crucial and timely primary endorser of Barack Obama and, as the highest ranking black congressman ever, can't just be tossed aside.

Obama, who's the highest-ranking elected black American ever, has been over in Jakarta and won't appear to touch this domestic Democratic struggle with a 10,164-mile-long pole. That's House business.

So, at the risk of bruised political egos and who knows what else, the two men will fight it out until one accepts the inevitable -- or Ms. P brokers a deal, as she is attempting now. Meanwhile, some members are pushing to postpone the leadership elections closer to January.

On the Republican side Indiana's Mike Pence stepped down from the fourth-ranking leadership slot of conference chair. And Texas' Jeb Hensarling and Minnesota's Michele Bachmann announced their candidacies.

Electing Bachmann would provide some gender balance to a lot of suits-and-ties and recognize the newly-arrived "tea party" blood. But she has a reputation for launching random rhetorical rockets that the new GOP majority's members may fear as an unnecessary distraction in the 2012 run-up. Still, the way the Republican Party's reward system works, even losing now would put her in position to inherit something worthy later.

(UPDATE: Wednesday, 6 p.m. The Hill reports Bachmann drops her leadership bid with insufficient votes.)

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Associated Press (Hoyer, Pelosi, Clyburn)

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