Analysis: Could the Black Caucus Leverage Votes in Race for Speaker?

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By Lauren Victoria Burke

Could the Congressional Black Caucus block their votes in such a way to get something politically out of the race for Speaker of the House?

Of course it's unlikely that a Republican would make a deal with any group of House Democrats, but in the current fluid political environment around the race for Speaker, it's not impossible.

After the shocking withdrawal of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the narrative of the conflict regarding John Boehner's successor is being controlled by the House's right wing members, known as the Freedom Caucus.

The group doesn't have the numbers to elect a Speaker, but they do have enough votes to derail a more moderate Republican from being elected. There are other blocks of votes that could become a part of the conversation should House members be forced to go to a second or third ballot vote in selecting a Speaker.

When asked about any vote blocking strategy the Black Caucus could have in the race for Speaker, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) told NBCBLK off the House floor, "The power of the Congressional Black Caucus is truly unspeakable. Whatever the Tea Party is doing with votes, the Congressional Black Caucus could make that look like a kindergarten class."

There are 247 Republicans and 188 Democrats in the House who are expected to participate in the final vote for Speaker on the House floor. The Black Caucus has 46 votes—almost a third of the Democratic Caucus.

Congress is off next week, but when they return on the week of October 19th, a member plans to put the idea of a vote blocking strategy for the Black Caucus on the agenda at the CBC's weekly meeting. The CBC's only Republican member, Rep. Mia Love (R-UT), has already said she plans to vote for Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) for Speaker of the House.

Nancy Pelosi, Members Of Congressional Black Caucus, And Civil Rights Leaders Call On Senate To Confirm Loretta Lynch
Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) (R) speaks while flanked by members of the Congressional Black Caucus during a news conference on Capitol Hill, April 22, 2015 in Washington DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)Mark Wilson / Getty Images

When asked about any strategic plans the Black Caucus may have for what may be an unpredictable multi-ballot vote, Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) was clear that, "we have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies we are keeping all of options open."

When asked about what the Caucus would do if one of the Republicans floated the idea of passing justice reform or fixing the Voting Rights Act, Chairman Butterfield said the Caucus would have to think about it but he wouldn't dismiss it.

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"First of all, we'd have to deal with whether they would have the capacity to deliver on the promise," he said. "Second of all, we have to have the discipline within the Democratic Caucus which is something that the Republicans don't have. That's why they are facing the headwinds that they are. We have to have discipline in the Democratic Caucus."

He then added: "Ms. Pelosi says that she wants to be the nominee and at least on the outset we need to lock arms and support Pelosi. But after the first ballot neither Republican—there will be two or more Republicans—neither will get 218. Then it would go to a second ballot and probably to a third ballot.

"What do we get out of it? This is politics. It is horse swapping. People might find that distasteful but that's just what it is."

"If neither of the Republicans will capitulate there's going to have to be some deal making. And that's when people on my side of the isle, I think would be interested in having that conversation "

Former Black Caucus Chair Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) didn't want to get into details of Black Caucus vote block strategy and simply said, "This is my position: I don't believe we take anything off the table."

"I would love to leverage some of our votes," said Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO), though he quickly added that trusting the Republicans in the House on any issue that a vote deal could be made would be difficult.

"I honestly think it's an intriguing idea. None of them have 218. Some deal is going to be struck with somebody—either with them mad hatters over there or somebody over here." said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN).

House Democratic Caucu Meets On Capitol Hill
Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) (L) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) arrive for the first House Democratic caucus meeting of the 114th Congress in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center January 7, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

"There's been some Republican members who have said 'We're gonna have to cut some deals with some Democrats.' I'm for that. I've never had a problem with that, but the question is: What do we get out of it? This is politics. It is horse swapping. People might find that distasteful but that's just what it is. What's wrong with them doing some things they want and us getting some things we want. That's how you get things done," Rep. Ellison added.

Rangel, 85, who has been in Congress since 1971, commented on the situation in general. He was asked if he'd ever seen anything like what's happening to the GOP in the House.

"Never. Never. It's so sad because unfortunately people don't look at this as a Republican issue—it's a congressional issue and we're being pulled down with it. It may be good partisan news for Democrats but for our place in the world it's very, very sad," Rangel said.

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