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Cicilline will challenge Clyburn for No. 4 House Democratic leadership post

“It is critical that the House Democratic leadership team fully reflect the diversity of our caucus and the American people by including an LGBTQ+ member at the leadership table,” the R.I. Democrat says

US Representative David N. Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, is challenging US Representative James Clyburn for assistant leader.Globe archives

PROVIDENCE — US Representative David N. Cicilline on Wednesday announced he is challenging Representative James E. Clyburn for the No. 4 House Democratic leadership post, saying he wants to represent the LGBTQ+ community in the Democratic hierarchy.

The announcement sets up a high-profile contest between Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat and LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus chair, and Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat and former Black Caucus chair, for assistant leader. The Cicilline-Clyburn race will be decided Thursday in a closed-door vote.

The announcement comes after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer announced they would step aside, clearing the way for a younger leadership team headed by Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, and Pete Aguilar of California.

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But Clyburn, 82, recently announced that, while he’d give up his third-ranking spot next year as whip, he planned seek the No. 4 assistant leader position. He argued that the South needed representation in the top ranks, and until Wednesday, it was thought Clyburn would be running unopposed.

But Cicilline, 61, wrote a three-page letter to his Democratic colleagues, saying he feels compelled to run for the position in the wake of a shooting at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, that killed five people and wounded 18 others.

“Over the past six years, we have seen an alarming rise of hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community while state legislatures across the country have worked to strip away our rights,” Cicilline wrote. “With so much at stake, I think it is critical that the House Democratic leadership team fully reflect the diversity of our caucus and the American people by including an LGBTQ+ member at the leadership table, which is why I’ve decided to run for assistant leader.”

Cicilline’s announcement comes a day after the Senate passed the bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act, which would require states to recognize any union that is valid in the state in which it was performed. The House is expected to pass the landmark bill next week and President Biden has promised to sign it, a major victory for the LGBTQ+ community.

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Cicilline noted that he has served as chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, saying he would bring “messaging skills” to the new Democratic leadership team as it tries to win back the House in 2024.

“I would be honored and humbled to have your support and to be able to join Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine Clark, and Pete Aguilar as part of the new generation of House leadership,” Cicilline wrote.

While political observers called his announcement a surprise, Cicilline noted that he ran for assistant leader in 2020, when Clark beat him in a contest for the No. 4 position by a vote of 135 to 92.

“After falling short last time, I told many of you that I planned to run again once Assistant Speaker Clark was elected to another position,” he wrote. “Now that the position will be vacant, I am asking for your support once again.”

Cicilline, a former Providence mayor and state legislator who was first elected to Congress in 2010, touted his record, saying he launched “a historic investigation into Big Tech” as chair of the Antitrust Subcommittee, served as an impeachment manager against former President Donald J. Trump, lead the effort to pass an assault weapons ban, and fought for LGBTQ+ equality as chair of the Equality Caucus.

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“As we head back in the minority, it is critical that we have a fully inclusive leadership team that represents the diversity of our caucus and the American people,” Cicilline told his Democratic colleagues. “As we look ahead to the 2024 presidential election, we are faced with the real possibility that the Republicans may nominate Governor (Ron) DeSantis who authored and passed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill in Florida. There is no doubt that the new Republican majority in the House will try to push the same anti-LGBTQ+ agenda that we have seen at the state level.”

But Politico reports that Cicilline’s bid is already receiving pushback.

“I would think upon further deliberation, it’s still not too late for Congressman Cicilline to withdraw,” said Representative Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat and senior Black Caucus member.

Meanwhile, another Rhode Island Democrat, US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, is launching a challenge of his own.

Politico reports that Whitehouse is again trying to prevent US Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, from serving as both Judiciary Committee chairman and Senate majority whip. Whitehouse, who vied with Durbin for the Senate Judiciary gavel in 2020, has proposed a rules change that would prevent any Democratic senator from holding a leadership position while simultaneously chairing an in-demand committee.

The change would not go into effect until 2025, but it would likely affect Durbin in addition to Senators Amy Klobuchar, chair of the rules committee, and Debbie Stabenow, chair of the agriculture committee. Senate Democrats are expected to vote on Whitehouse’s proposal on Thursday.

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Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him @FitzProv.