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Cicilline drops out of running for No. 4 House Democratic leadership post

Senate Democratic caucus rejects a rules change proposed by another Rhode Island Democrat, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

US Representative David N. Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat.Mariam Zuhaib/Associated Press

PROVIDENCE — US Representative David N. Cicilline on Thursday dropped out of the running for the No. 4 House Democratic leadership post after receiving assurances that the LGBTQ+ community will be represented in leadership, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.

Later on Thursday, US Senate Democrats voted against a rules change proposed by another Rhode Island Democrat, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, that would have barred Democratic leaders from holding prime committee gavels.

Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat and LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus chair, had announced a last-minute challenge to Representative James E. Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat and former Black Caucus chair, for assistant leader.


Democrats were meeting behind closed doors Thursday to decide the Cicilline-Clyburn race, but Cicilline withdrew from consideration. And Clyburn was elected assistant minority leader.

NBC News reported that during Thursday’s vote Cicilline gave a “rousing speech” about the importance of having an LGBTQ+ voice at the leadership table.

“The point he wanted to make is legitimate, which is that LGBTQ members are a significant part of our caucus and we did not have one in any position of leadership,” Representative Emanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat and Clyburn loyalist, told NBC News. “I think everyone understands that we probably should have been a little more intentional during the move to get people to run for positions.”

Cleaver and other Democrats said they would be pushing to create a new leadership post for an LGBTQ member after hearing from Cicilline.

Cicilline’s office had no immediate comment.

Meanwhile, Politico reported that the Senate Democratic caucus voted by secret ballot against a rules change proposed by Whitehouse.

Whitehouse wanted to prevent any Democratic senator from holding a leadership position while simultaneously chairing an in-demand committee. That idea would have most directly affected Senator Dick Durbin, who serves as both Judiciary chair and majority whip. Whitehouse had vied with Durbin for the Senate Judiciary gavel in 2020.


But the proposal also could have impacted Senators Debbie Stabenow and Amy Klobuchar, who are expected to rise to the No. 3 and No. 4 Democratic leadership positions next week. Stabenow chairs the Agriculture Committee and Klobuchar chairs the Rules Committee.

After the vote, Whitehouse issued a statement, saying, “I had my vote, the caucus has spoken, and I go forward uncomplainingly. We did well, but not enough to win.”

Cicilline made his unexpected move 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.

Clyburn, 82, had 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.

But Cicilline, 61, wrote a three-page letter to his Democratic colleagues on Wednesday, saying he felt 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 came one 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.

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.

Updated with information about the vote by Senate Democrats on a rules change proposed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at Follow him @FitzProv.