For as much noise as Rep. Seth Moulton has made in the Democratic congressional leadership race, the Massachusetts representative actually running to move up the party ranks is one district over. By Wednesday, Rep. Katherine Clark could be the fifth-highest-ranking Democrat in the House.
“We just elected the most diverse class in our country’s history, and I want to make sure that we are really not just patting ourself on the back,” Clark told Boston.com in a recent interview.
The 5th District congresswoman, who was re-elected to a fourth term this month, announced in July that she would run for vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus after Rep. Linda Sánchez, who currently holds the position, declared her candidacy for caucus chair, the No. 4 leadership role (Sánchez has since dropped her caucus chair bid).
Clark spent the past election cycle working to recruit candidates and flip Republican seats across the country as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “red to blue” co-chair. According to The Boston Globe, Clark also helped raise $3.4 million for Democratic candidates. As caucus vice chair, the 55-year-old Melrose Democrat says she would want to make sure that those who won are heard in the new, historically diverse House majority.
Unlike Moulton, Clark has been a consistent supporter of Rep. Nancy Pelosi as the Democratic leader and potential House speaker. But she also suggests the party could be better at incorporating the “expertise” of the newest members — many of whom just spent months talking to thousands of voters in purple districts — “in ways that a strictly seniority system doesn’t always do a good job of.”
“We have an incredibly diverse caucus, whether that’s by gender, race, ethnicity, geography, and even ideology within the Democratic Party,” Clark said. “And we can do a — what I really want to do is make sure that every member, we all have an equal vote on the floor and I really want to make sure we have an equal voice in our caucus.”
House Democrats will hold their closed-door leadership elections Wednesday, and Clark isn’t the only one vying to be vice chair.
Rep. Pete Aguilar, a California Democrat representing the state’s 31st District in San Bernardino County, announced his candidacy for the position in September.
A member of the centrist New Democrat Coalition, Aguilar is similarly running on a platform of “inclusiveness.” The 39-year-old second-term congressman told Politico that he wants to create a more “formal structure” for the Democratic Party’s different ideological and ethnic factions to have input in the early-stage policy decisions made by the party’s leadership.
“I think bringing these groups together to make sure they’re having conversations along the way so no one is surprised, is going to be essential,” Aguilar said.
Clark wouldn’t specifically say when asked what she would do differently than Aguilar, but emphasized that her DCCC experience over the past two years has broadened her perspective on the country’s needs.
“I have a far deeper understanding than I did two years ago about what different districts in our country look like,” she said, reiterating that the caucus needs to tap into the “expertise” and diversity of the newer members to put “policies in place that continue to build the economy.”
“Having traveled to many different states and worked with candidates across the country, I really want to bring that experience and that perspective that I gained in doing that work over last two years to Congress and to the caucus,” Clark said.
Sánchez, who has repeatedly called for a new generation of Democratic leadership, isn’t taking a side in the race between Clark and Aguilar to fill her post, according to her office — even if the latter is a fellow Californian and Congressional Hispanic Caucus member. She did, however, praise Clark as a “thoughtful leader and a hard worker” after the Bay State congresswoman announced her candidacy.
Likewise, Clark is careful not to come across as critical of the current caucus vice chairwoman.
“I think it’s going to be a different role, having this very large new class come in,” she said.
Clark sees the position as having a “very flexible role” within the party, as well as one that will be different with Democrats set to regain the majority for the first time in eight years (Sánchez was only elected vice chair in 2016). In fact, for most House Democrats, the 116th Congress will be the first time they’ve ever experienced being in the majority.
“We’re going to have tools in the majority that we haven’t had in awhile, and I really want to make those available and enhance them across our caucus,” Clark said.
In addition to helping the new members get their footing in Washington, D.C., Clark says one idea she has is the use of field hearings to make sure they are also connecting back at home. The offsite hearings relocate the committee testimony typically held inside congressional office buildings and bring members of Congress “back to their constituents” to hear directly from officials, experts, and local residents.
Clark envisions field hearings in Massachusetts focusing on anything from the opioid crisis to the lessons learned from the state’s education system. One recent example was the field hearing held Monday morning on the Merrimack Valley gas explosions, in which local U.S. senators and representatives traveled to Lawrence to question gas company officials and listen to victims’ accounts of the disaster.
Hearing began with moving testimony by Lucianny Rondon, sister of 18-yr-old gas disaster victim Leonel Rondon: "We hope there will be justice for him and the community. Nobody should ever have to go through what my family has gone through ever again." https://t.co/ghraTa4psR pic.twitter.com/a4ODZ3RocC
— Kristin LaFratta (@kristinlafratta) November 26, 2018
“Field hearings are one of the tools that will now be at our disposal that I think cannot only be a chance to show people what we’re working on, but help the American people set the agenda with us,” Clark said.
Clark says this year was the first time she considered running to join House leadership. After working to recruit and support Democrats in the midterm elections, she wants to continue that same sort of work with the new members, from setting up offices and building their constituent services to crafting a communications strategy and developing a policy agenda.
In her letter announcing her vice chair candidacy this past summer, Clark said Democrats had to “be ready to implement a bold agenda” if they won back the majority in this month’s midterm elections. With that majority now secured, she rattled off a laundry list of priorities that agenda should include: Health care, prescription drugs, infrastructure, gun safety, climate change, and getting corruption out of politics.
And not necessarily in that particular order.
During her campaign travels this year, Clark said she found it “very striking” how many people she met in traditionally Republican districts who said they were voting or volunteering for a Democrat for the first time this year. Even if President Donald Trump or the Republican-controlled Senate don’t sign off on those Democratic goals, Clark says it’s important for the new House majority to show where it stands.
“If we do a good job in the caucus of incorporating these new members’ voices and really setting an agenda that plays to the strength of our diversity, it’s going to be a great outcome for the American people and I think it’s going to reduce the cynicism and the polarization around politics,” she said.