Katherine Clark – The New Number Two House Democratic Leader December 4, 2022
The “changing of the guard.” No, I am not referring to the ceremonial procedure involving the British military that occurs every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday at 11:00 AM at Buckingham Palace, now the official residence of King Charles III (See google.com). I am, rather, discussing the political “changing of the guard” that the Democratic Party just went through in Washington, D.C. As we all know, on November 17, 2022, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (82) announced that she would not seek to lead the House Democrats in the upcoming 118th Congress. Speaker Pelosi abided by her 2018 agreement with fellow Democrats to step down from the House leadership at the end of 2022 to make way for younger leaders. Speaker Pelosi capped a 35-year House career in which she had become the most powerful woman in Congress and in U.S. history (latimes.com, McCaskill, N., 11/17/22). She will, however, remain in the House and continue to represent “ super Blue” CA’s 12th Congressional District (CD) centered in the San Francisco Bay area. The CA 12th has a Cook PVI (Partisan Voting Index) of D+38. In her House floor speech, Pelosi declared, “For me, the hour’s come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect (latimes.com, McCaskill).” President Biden called Pelosi the “most consequential speaker of the House of Representatives in our history (latimes.com, McCaskill).” Pelosi has served in Congress under Presidents Reagan, H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, “W” Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden. Pelosi stood up for progressive Democratic ideals against conservative GOP Presidents. She helped push through Obamacare when very few believed it could pass. She was instrumental in passing Biden’s COVID relief, infrastructure, and Inflation Reduction Act Bills (latimes.com, McCaskill, 11/17/22). She strongly fought against authoritarian Demagogue Donald She spoke straight to him and contradicted his blatant lies. No one will ever forget her taking a copy of one of Demagogue Donald’s lie-filled State of the Union speeches and tearing it up in front of millions of television viewers. Even though the Democrats lost the House in 2022, Pelosi, along with President Biden, helped “Team Blue” keep those losses to a minimum and do far better than most pundits and analysts had ever expected (See nytimes.com, Hounshell & Hirschfeld Davis, 11/23/22). The GOPers who expected a “Red wave” are now in disarray, not the Democrats.
Once Pelosi indicated her intention to step down from Democratic leadership, her lieutenant , Steny Hoyer (83), the No. 2 Democrat in the leadership, followed her. Although the No. 3 Democrat Majority Whip , 82-year old Jim Clyburn (D-SC), decided to remain in the leadership, he will be in the No. 4 position as minority “assistant leader.” Pete Aguilar (D-CA) will take the No. 3 job, Democratic Caucus Chair (nbcnews.com, Wong, S., 11/27/22). Without any infighting, Democrats all but anointed their successors. This far younger “new blooded” group will consist of 52-year-old Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), 59-year-old Katherine Clark (D-MA), and 43-year-old Pete Aguilar (D-CA). This “dynamic trio” had worked for months to secure the support of their fellow Democrats ( See nbcnews.com, Wong, latimes.com, nytimes.com). On 11/30/2022, the Democratic Caucus ratified this new leadership. They voted by acclimation to make Cong. Hakeem Jeffries the Minority Leader, the first Black to hold that top spot. Cong. Katherine Clark was elected whip, a position in which she will be the lead vote counter for House Democrats. Rep Pete Aguilar, a Latino, will chair the Democratic Party caucus where he will be in charge of “Team Blue’s” messaging (nytimes.com, Karni & Cochrane, 11/30/22). In a tribute to her leadership, retiring Speaker Nancy Pelosi was unanimously designated “Speaker Emerita” on the night of 11/29/22 (cnn.com, Diaz, D., 11/30/22). Much has been written about incoming Minority Leader Jeffries and Caucus Chair Aguilar. Let’s look at the new whip in the upcoming 118th Congress, Katherine Clark.
Incoming Minority Democratic whip-elect Congressmember Katherine Clark (59) is currently serving her 5th term and has just been re-elected to a sixth one in the Massachusetts 5th Congressional District (CD). The MA 5th is made up of the northern and western Boston suburbs. The Bay State 5th forms an arc around Boston. It takes in the beach towns of Winthrop and Revere just beyond Logan Airport and goes north as far as working-class Woburn. The 5th includes the towns of Natick and Framingham. The 5th goes south and takes in Ashland, Holliston, and Sherborn. This CD includes in its western part Wayland and Sudbury. The town of Lexington, where the minutemen fired the Revolutionary War shots “heard round the world” lies in the 5th as well. The 5th reaches into Cambridge to include Harvard University’s main campus north of the Charles River. Framingham is the headquarters of Staples and TJX (T.J. Maxx, Marshall’s, and HomeGoods). This area of Greater Boston, in addition to its strong retailing sector, has become, according to the Boston Business Journal, the “global epicenter of life science research,” with only CA’s San Francisco area as a competitor. Harvard and MIT alumni and an influx of venture capital have been influential in making science research a key player in the 5th. The military aerospace business is also big in the 5th with Waltham’s-based Raytheon.
Framingham is culturally diverse. Sixty-seven languages are spoken in its public schools. Politically, the 5th is one “Royal Blue” area with a Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) of D+23. In both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, the 5th was the second strongest Democratic-performing district in heavily “Blue” MA. Hillary received 68% of the vote and Biden topped that with 74% (Cohen & Cook 2022).
New Haven, CT native Katherine Clark received a 1985 undergraduate degree from St. Lawrence University and a 1989 law degree from Cornell University. She practiced law in Chicago and CA. In 1995, Clark moved to MA and earned a Master’s in Public Administration from Harvard’s JFK School of Government. She worked as general counsel for the Massachusetts Office of Child Care Services and as policy chief for Attorney General Martha Coakley. In 2008, Clark won election to the MA State House and in 2010 to the State Senate (Cohen & Cook 2022). She is pro-choice and was endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice MA and the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund (NARAL, Planned Parent Advocacy). She chaired the State Senate Judiciary Committee (Cohen & Cook 2022). She was a lead author of a bill to reform municipal pensions. For this work, she received legislator of the year awards from the MA Municipal Association and the MA Police Association ( webarchive.org, 1/25/12, wakefieldpatch.com , 9/21/13). She authored a law that takes steps to insure that all MA children read at grade level by the third grade. She sponsored a bill tightening sex offender laws and co-sponsored a bill to secure electronic privacy protections (Gov. Patrick press release, 9/26/12, malegislature.gov, Smith, E., “Boston Herald,” 5/08/13). When President Obama appointed MA Senator John Kerry Sec. of State, 5th CD Rep. Ed Markey successfully ran to replace Kerry. In the primary to replace Markey, Clark competed against six candidates. She campaigned for abortion rights and equal pay for women. She spoke of her grandmother being a machinist during WWII and how her mother had been discouraged from becoming an engineer because of her sex. Clark, the mother of three young sons, kept making the point that “women’s issues are family issues.” She won her primary and easily won the Dem. general election in 2013. She has handily been re-elected ever since. In her 2022 campaign, she clobbered her GOP opponent 73.8%-26.2% (google.com, Cohen & Cook 2022).
In the House, Cong. Clark first gained prominence on the issue of gun control. In 6/2016, after the gay night club Pulse shooting in Orlando, FL, Clark told then civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) that the typical moment of silence in the House was not enough. Clark noted, “I wanted to do something to keep gun violence in the forefront of not only the American people, but more specifically, members of Congress.” Lewis suggested that “we do something dramatic” and he suggested a sit-in, and it really went from there.” Clark herself had tried civil rights cases in her private legal practice. Cong. Lewis told Time Magazine that Cong. Clark should be credited with the sit-in idea. The House sit-in was an attempt to force then Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) hand, but yielded no legislative action. However, it brought Capitol Hill to a pause for two days to emphasize the need for sane gun control (Cohen & Cook 2022). In 2017, Rep. Clark landed a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, where she still sits (Cook, CQ 117th Cong. At Your Fingertip). Cong. Clark is a member of a tight-knit group of Democratic women who took office in 2013, known as “the Pink Ladies.” This group included, among others, former IL Cong. Cheri Bustos, CA’s Julia Brownley, and NH’s Annie Kuster (Cohen & Cook 2022).
Legislatively, Cong. Clark pursued her career interests in child-care issues. In 6/2020, she sponsored a proposal that was designed to revitalize child-care providers with loan repayments and grants for innovations. This bill would help many women with children at home doing child care, because the schools were shut down for months during the COVID-19 pandemic. From the very beginning, Cong. Clark strongly opposed Demagogue Donald. She boycotted his 1/20/2017 inauguration. She stated that her desire was not to “normalize” Trump’s promotion of “bigoted, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, and racist claims (bostonglobe.com, Herndon, 1/05/17).” Cong. Clark didn’t need to see the Charlottesville fatal race riot involving white supremacists. Neither did she have to hear about anti-Semitic Kanye West and Holocaust-denier Nick Fuentes’ support for Trump to understand Donald’s affinity for these wackos. Cong. Clark’s voting record is strongly progressive and in line with her district. From 2019-2020, Clark had a composite Almanac 86%-14% Liberal/Conservative score, which included a 100%-0% Liberal v. Conservative rating on the economy (Cohen & Cook 2022 Almanac).
Following the 2018 election, when Democrats retook the House in the Trump era, Cong. Clark entered Democratic leadership as caucus vice-chair. Clark was selected for this post because she had devoted time to building loyalties as the recruitment vice-chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). Cong. Clark was among the first House members that “Team Blue” candidates met during their successful campaigns (Cohen & Cook 2022). As caucus vice-chair, Cong. Clark was perfectly positioned to run for assistant speaker. Assistant speaker was a relatively new position that Speaker Pelosi created. When Clark ran for the assistant speakership post, she told her fellow House Democrats,“effective leadership is not about individual ambition…but collective good.” She easily defeated her only rival for this post, fellow New Englander David Cicilline Many analysts and pundits rightly saw Clark’s ascending to the assistant-speakership as putting her in a good position for a top House Democratic leadership post when Pelosi and her fellow octogenarians decided to step down (See Cohen & Cook 2022).
Cong. Clark does not yet have the many years of political seasoning that Speaker Pelosi accumulated. However, with time, Clark will surely grow into the job. Speaker Pelosi, while still sitting in Congress, will be able to help Clark handle any political issues she may face and give her competent advice. Speaker Pelosi also served in the minority for many years and knows how to deal with the present group of GOPers. Cong. Clark has a great mentor in Nancy Pelosi. Again, congratulations, Cong. Clark!