WASHINGTON — Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge, the top potential rival to Nancy Pelosi for House speaker, dropped out of the running Tuesday, delivering a blow to efforts to topple the California Democrat.
Fudge announced her decision just as Pelosi said she was naming the Ohio congresswoman as incoming chair of a newly revived elections subcommittee that will delve into voting rights access, a top priority of the new Democratic majority. The move also came the same day Fudge faced questions over her past support for a man now suspected of stabbing his ex-wife.
Her consideration to run for speaker, Fudge said, was in part to "ensure diversity, equity and inclusion at all levels of the House." She was "now confident that we will move forward together," she said in a statement.
As a former chairwoman of the influential Congressional Black Caucus, Fudge noted she was assured by Pelosi assured that black women, in particular, "will have a seat at the decision-making table."
Pelosi's move to revive the elections subcommittee of the House Administration Committee is an example of the reach of the leader's office to dole out plum assignments to lawmakers — or withhold them — as she works to shore up votes to become speaker.
Pelosi said Fudge has been a "driving force in our voter protection efforts" and in her new position the congresswoman will "play a critical role in our Democratic Majority's efforts to ensure access to the ballot box for all Americans."
Pelosi kick-started the committee that had been dormant for the past few years under the GOP majority and handed the gavel to Fudge.
The turn of events comes as Democratic lawmakers are on Thanksgiving recess ahead of a closed-door vote next week on new leadership.
Democrats are expected to vote Pelosi as their nominee for speaker, but it's unclear if she has enough support from her ranks when the full House votes in January.
Pelosi's bid was boosted Tuesday by praise from former President Barack Obama.
Obama said when history is written, Pelosi will be remembered as "one of the most effective legislative leaders that this country has ever seen." He called her an "extraordinary partner" during his presidency.
"Nancy is not always the best on a cable show, or with the quick soundbite or what have you, but her skill, tenacity, toughness, vision is remarkable," Obama said on "The Axe Files" podcast.
At least 16 Democrats have signed on to a letter in favor of new leadership, and several incoming freshmen lawmakers have said they won't vote for Pelosi.
But Pelosi has several weeks over the holiday season to listen to lawmakers and may be able to shore up her support.
Earlier Tuesday, Fudge came under scrutiny for her past support of Lance Mason. She had been among several officials who wrote letters of support over recent years for Mason, a former county judge and state senator who pleaded guilty in 2015 to beating Aisha Fraser Mason so badly that her face required reconstructive surgery.
Fraser Mason, a schoolteacher and mother, was fatally stabbed Saturday. Lance Mason is a suspect in the slaying and is likely to be charged, authorities said Monday.
Police said in court documents the ex-judge was fleeing the scene of the homicide when he slammed his SUV into a patrol cruiser.
Fudge said in a statement Tuesday that her efforts to vouch for Lance Mason three years ago were based on "the person I knew for almost 30 years."
"The person who committed these crimes is not the Lance Mason familiar to me. They were horrific crimes, and I condemn them," Fudge said. "I and everyone who knew Aisha are mourning her loss."
Dozens of letters were written on Mason's behalf between his August 2014 arrest for the first attack on Fraser Mason and when his disciplinary case went before the Ohio Supreme Court in October 2017. Judge, who worked with Mason, and prominent lawyers were among those who wrote in support of Mason. Cleveland 19 News tweeted a copy of a letter Fudge wrote to the local prosecutor.
"Lance accepts full responsibility for his actions and has assured me that something like this will never happen again," Fudge wrote in the letter.
"Lance Mason is a good man who made a very bad mistake," she added. "I can only hope that you can see in Lance what I and others see."
Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro and Alan Fram in Washington contributed to this report.