By Frederick H. Lowe, BlackmansStreet.Today
James Clyburn and Hakeem Jeffries
For the first time ever, two African Americans will hold top leadership positions at the same time in Congress, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, recently announced. U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, was elected chair of the Democratic Caucus, and Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, was elected Majority Whip, the third most-powerful party member. Clyburn also is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Rep. Jeffries defeated Rep. Barbara Lee for this position by a vote of 123-113, which surprised some Congressional observers. Fellow California Rep. Jackie Speier indicated she believed that ageism and sexism played a role in Barbara Lee’s defeat. Saying members should have the “courage” to vote in a public way in House leadership races. Currently, the votes are taken by secret ballot. “There’s this game that some of my colleagues play where they say one thing to one member and then say something else to another member,” Speier said. Many viewed the defeat of Lee over Jeffries as a triumph of monied interests over progressive values. Though Tom Watson, founder of CauseWired, pointed out on Twitter that Jeffries voting record is just as progressive as Lee’s. In a gracious statement, Congresswoman Lee said, “I want to congratulate Congressman Hakeem Jeffries on a hard-fought race. I look forward to working with him to advance a progressive, inclusive agenda for the American people. While I didn’t win today, I hope my candidacy will inspire other women, and women of color in particular, to run for elected office and seek leadership positions. Our Caucus can only succeed when every voice is represented in leadership. “When the Congressional Black Caucus was founded in 1971, I know our 13 founding members dreamed of the day we would have more than one member in our ranks competing for top leadership positions in Congress. Today is that day, and I know they are proud,” Richmond said. The majority whip is a member of the dominant political party whose job is to keep voting members in line with the party’s ideology and goals. The majority whip ensures attendance at all important votes and legislative sessions. The 78-year-old Clyburn, who represents South Carolina’s 6th District, has been a member of Congress since 1993. Clyburn, who also was majority whip from 2007 to 2011, has been criticized for accepting millions of dollars from the pharmaceutical industry over the past decade. Clyburn has received more money from drug maker PACs over the past decade than any other member of Congress—more than $1.09 million. During the 2018 election cycle, Clyburn received at least $170,000. In 2013, he was the featured speaker at a conference hosted by PhRMA, the industry’s leading trade group, according to Kaiser Health News. The conference was held at the James E. Clyburn Research Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, a hub of biopharmaceutical research. Kaiser Health News reported that voters complained about soaring prescription drug prices during the 2018 election campaign, and Democrats claimed they would do something about them in the next Congress. Nancy Pelosi, the incoming House Majority Leader, has received nearly $193,000 from drug maker PACs (political action committees). And Pelosi’s number two, U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, has accepted $1.02 million from drug maker PACs since 2007. Hoyer received $128,000 from drug maker PACS during the recent election cycle. Prescription drug expenditures are nearly 20 percent of health care costs, and prescription spending is growing faster than any other part of the health care dollar. Spending on prescription drugs increased 13.1 percent in 2014—the largest annual increase since 2003. This uptick was largely driven by an unprecedented 30.9 percent increase in spending on specialty medications. In 2015, spending rose another 12.2 percent, according to theCampaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing. The chair of the Democratic Caucus makes sure party members achieve a consensus and achieve their goals. The 48-year-old Jefferies has been a member of Congress since 2013. He represents the 8th Congressional District, which includes Brooklyn and Queens, New York.