WASHINGTON — Representative Katherine Clark cemented her future Wednesday as the number two House Democrat in the next Congress, making history as only the second woman to hold the position after outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The Revere Democrat ran unopposed for the position and was chosen by unanimous consent, according to her spokeswoman.
“It is very deeply humbling and honoring. I am looking forward to working with this caucus and the incredible team, with the historic election of Hakeem Jeffries and Pete Aguilar,” Clark told the Globe. “This is a caucus ready to get to work for the American people.”
Before the vote, Clark selected four Democratic colleagues to speak on her behalf, with each highlighting specific points of her background that suit her new post. Representative Sharice Davids, a swing seat Democrat from Kansas, spoke about Clark’s work for so-called frontline members from competitive congressional districts, and Texas Representative Colin Allred spoke to her effective recruitment in the 2018 cycle that helped Democrats win the House. Illinois Representative Robin Kelly spoke about Clark’s advocacy for policies affecting women, children, and families, and first-term New Mexico Representative Teresa Leger Fernandez added praise for her mentorship of freshmen and progressive issues.
Clark’s ascension, along with New York Representative Hakeem Jeffries as the party’s next House minority leader, marked a frictionless passing of the torch from outgoing octogenarian leadership to a new generation of Democrats, sparked by Pelosi’s announcement earlier this month that she would not seek a leadership position next year.
Holding the whip position, as the number two slot is known, also marks a new height for Clark, who 20 years ago began her career in politics with a spot on the Melrose School Committee, coincidentally the same year that Pelosi began her own ascent in leadership as the minority whip.
In the new position, Clark will be responsible for keeping Democrats in line on votes, either marshaling votes in favor of legislation or, more likely in the minority, against it. It’s a natural fit for the lawmaker who, according to her colleagues, has been assiduous about keeping in touch with her colleagues and building relationships with all of them.
“She’s the one that knows who’s getting a new hip next week, and whose mother’s going into the nursing home and whose, you know, brother is dealing with addiction,” said Representative Annie Kuster of New Hampshire, who is also Clark’s roommate in Washington.
Since she first entered politics in Melrose, Clark has risen to the State House and State Senate and then to Congress in 2013. She joined House leadership in 2018, steadily working her way up the ranks. In this Congress, she has served as assistant speaker, number four on the leadership chart.
Clark moved subtly behind the scenes to secure her new position for months before Pelosi’s announcement.
In that time, Clark and Jeffries had developed a close partnership in the lower-tier of Democratic leadership and solidified much of the caucus around their status as the presumed successors to Pelosi and her deputies.
That work was on display when Pelosi made it all official and her immediate deputies soon followed with their own announcements that they would relinquish their posts, as Clark and Jeffries announced unopposed bids for their spots.
With Wednesday’s vote making their future roles official, Clark and Jeffries now face a consequential lame-duck session in which lawmakers are trying to pass a government funding deal before the end of the year. Should they fail to reach a deal, it would likely postpone the issue into next year, when Republicans will take control of the House and have a wishlist of priorities that could lead to a government shutdown as the parties negotiate.
They will face a hectic dynamic in Washington next year, with Democrats controlling the White House and Senate but Republicans running the House with a razor-thin majority. Republican leadership will likely have a tumultuous time wrangling votes among their fractious caucus for must-pass legislation like spending bills. Clark will be tasked with keeping Democrats from defecting to help Republicans pass bills and counseling them through tough messaging votes, while also making sure Democrats have enough votes to pass any bipartisan legislation.
Much of the action, though, is expected to not be legislative. Instead, Republicans will likely focus on using their control of committees to launch a slew of investigations into the Biden administration, including targets like the IRS and Department of Homeland Security, as well as more personal investigations like President Biden’s troubled son, Hunter, and his business dealings. That will leave Democrats playing defense and seeking to win the public relations battle as Clark and her colleagues also seek to win seats back in 2024.
Tal Kopan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @talkopan.