John Larson on Wednesday remembered one of the lines that he has often uttered during his political career that has stretched for more than two decades.
“One of the things I’ve said is ‘peacock one day, feather duster the next,’ ‘’ said Larson, the former state Senate President Pro Tem who has won eight straight elections since first running for Congress in 1998.
After four years as the fourth-highest member of the Democratic caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, Larson will be stepping down because of a caucus term limit. But even without an official title, Larson says he’ll remain in the thick of the battle over the next two years as the Democratic minority faces off with the Republicans in Washington, D.C.
“My colleagues said: make an exception,’’ Larson said of the caucus rules. “I said, ‘No, no, no.’ These should be term-limited.’’
Now, he will be “in leadership in some capacity, not in the elected spots,’’ Larson said in a telephone interview from the nation’s capital. He intends to be “moving up the ladder in the Ways and Means Committee’’ as the ranking member of a subcommittee.
In the hallways and cloakrooms of the Capitol, Larson, 64, will be an unofficial leader for the newest members who are as young as 29 years old.
“No question about it,’’ he said. “I will be serving in a mentoring capacity. I’ll still be involved in the leadership and the mentoring. I’ve been vice chair and chairman for a while.’’
Larson’s future was tied to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a San Francisco Democrat who announced Wednesday that she would remain as the party leader and ended speculation that she might retire at the age of 72. If Pelosi had stepped down, the internal maneuvering would have allowed Larson to run for another leadership post. When Pelosi stayed in place, Larson had no other spot to go in the leadership.
As caucus chairman, Larson held a highly influential position that had been held by Democratic Congressional stalwarts like Rahm Emanuel, James Clyburn, Robert Menendez, Steny Hoyer, Dick Gephardt, and Dan Rostenkowski. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, will keep his spot as the No. 2 leader in the caucus next year, while Clyburn, of South Carolina, will keep the No. 3 spot. Larson is being replaced by Rep. Xavier Becerra, an up-and-comer from California. In addition, Rep. Steve Israel of Dix Hills, Long Island will remain as the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which showed gains this year as the Republicans still maintained their majority in the House.
With a large freshman class, Larson said he will have a chance to help members on legislation and strategy.
“As these 49 new freshmen came in, you can’t help but marvel at our process,’’ Larson said. “I have branded us as America’s caucus because we’re the most diversified nation-state elected body in the history of the world – race, gender, religion, ethnicity, LGBT members. It really is a remarkable thing. We now have 60 women in our caucus. This is the first time that the majority of our caucus is comprised of women and minorities. White males are in the minority, which is pretty amazing.’’
Pelosi is close to Larson and traveled to Connecticut multiple times to major fundraisers for the DCCC that included stops at an upscale restaurant atop the Hartford Steam Boiler tower in downtown Hartford, overlooking the Connecticut River. Some of her trips were extremely low key – with no advance notice to the press. The most recent was in late September with a maximum price-tag of more than $30,000. Pelosi avoided protestors at the same location back in 2009 as they gathered outside the tower’s parking garage.
In her press conference Wednesday, Pelosi appeared with dozens of women standing behind her.
“A picture is worth 1,000 words,” Pelosi told reporters. “This picture before you is worth millions of votes – millions of women’s votes that it took to elect Barack Obama. … As you look forward, you are looking into the future.”
At one point, Pelosi flubbed her words.
“We don’t have the majority, but we have the gavel,” Pelosi said as some Democrats around her seemed perplexed. “Excuse me. We don’t have the gavel.”
When Pelosi arrived in Washington 25 years ago, there were only 23 women out of 435 members in the U.S. House. That included 12 Democrats and 11 Republicans, she said.
Now, that number is up five-fold.
“Not enough,” Pelosi said. “We want more.”
At the same time, she noted that fewer than 20 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women.