Rep. Marcia Fudge – an Ohio Democrat who had been weighing a potential run for House speaker – announced on Tuesday that she will instead endorse Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi for the job, effectively removing Pelosi’s most prominent potential challenger so far.
“I now join my colleagues in support of the leadership team of Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn,” Fudge said in a statement, referring to Reps. Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn, who are running to retain the respective positions of No. 2 and No. 3 highest-ranking Democrats in the new Congress.
Pelosi has not yet faced any formal opponent in the race, but Fudge had appeared until now to be most likely to challenge her and had publicly talked about the possibility of running. The Ohio Democrat’s decision to endorse Pelosi removes at least one potential obstacle in Pelosi’s quest to return to the speaker’s post, which has seen some opposition from a small but vocal faction of House Democrats who have called for new leadership.
Pelosi also made an announcement on Tuesday, saying that she plans to revive the House Administration subcommittee on elections and make Fudge the chair in the new Congress.
“Chairwoman Fudge will play a critical role in our Democratic Majority’s efforts to ensure access to the ballot box for all Americans,” Pelosi said, adding that she “look(s) forward to working with” Fudge “in this new role.”
Fudge outlined several reasons in her statement explaining her decision, including saying that Pelosi had “assured” her that black women “will have a seat at the decision-making table” within the party.
“Leader Pelosi has granted me the opportunity to create the record necessary to satisfy the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, so that the protections of the Voting Rights Act will be reinstated and improved. She has also assured me that the most loyal voting bloc in the Democratic party, Black women, will have a seat at the decision-making table,” Fudge said.
She added, “I am now confident that we will move forward together and that the 116th Congress will be a Congress of which we can all be proud.”
House Democrats will vote to select a nominee the week after Thanksgiving. A final vote on the House floor will take place in January.
Sixteen Democrats have so far signed a letter vowing to vote for “new leadership,” while several other Democrats have said they plan to oppose Pelosi despite not having signed the letter. It remains to be seen, however, whether the news that Fudge won’t challenge Pelosi changes any of that. Fudge’s name was notably absent from the letter when it was released on Monday.
As Fudge weighed a potential bid for speaker, her own record came under increasingly intense scrutiny.
Earlier on Tuesday, Politico reported that Fudge had “asked for leniency” in the sentencing of a man named Lance Mason “in a 2015 letter after Mason admitted to brutally beating his then-wife, Aisha Fraser.” Mason was arrested over the weekend in connection with Fraser’s death, according to local media reports, though as of Tuesday criminal charges have not yet been filed in relation to the death. CNN has been unable to reach Mason or his representatives for comment.
Fudge released a statement Tuesday in connection with the incident, saying that her “heart breaks for Aisha Fraser” and that her “support of Lance in 2015 was based on the person I knew for almost 30 years.”
She said in the statement, “The person who committed these crimes is not the Lance Mason familiar to me. They were horrific crimes, and I condemn them. I and everyone who knew Aisha are mourning her loss.”
On Wednesday, Fudge said her decision not to run for speaker had nothing to do with coverage of her letter support Mason.
“My decision was not based on the tragic death of Aisha Fraser,” Fudge said in a statement. “Any statements to the contrary are untrue and should stop.”
This story has been updated to include an additional statement from Rep. Marcia Fudge.
CNN’s Brian Todd and Manu Raju contributed to this report.