Hoyer steps in Waxman-Dingell fight
Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) has intervened in the fight between Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), hoping to resolve their battle over the chairmanship of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, one senior Democratic aide confirmed on Wednesday.
But neither combatant has agreed to a deal and the
dispute may still be resolved by a secret ballot next week.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has made it clear to all parties that she is not involving herself in this fight, leaving Hoyer as the lead negotiator in this dispute. The speaker even told Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), her closest ally in the House, not to use her name in his efforts to help Waxman, several Democratic sources said.
Democratic leaders in the House are desperate to avoid a messy fight over the chairmanship and avoid an internal election that splits the caucus, but Waxman still seems determined to dethrone Dingell, the longest serving member of the House.
The Waxman-Dingell showdown is the last real leadership battle for the House this year, as Pelosi and Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), worked swiftly in the days following the election to mitigate internal fights and set their leadership lineup for the 111th Congress.
Waxman’s reasons for trying to nab the Energy and Commerce chairmanship are obvious — the panel will be involved in the hottest domestic policy bills in the next Congress, including potential health care reform and an overhaul of energy policy.
Waxman is currently chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, an investigative panel that may have less appeal for a Democratic chairman with a Democratic president in the White House.
Top Democrats would like to avoid a repeat of 2006, when Pennsylvania Rep. John P. Murtha, another top Pelosially, christened the party’s return to power by unsuccessfully challenging Hoyer, the speaker’s onetime rival.
“If we have our druthers, I hope we are able to sit down and have both guys work this through before we go to a caucus [vote],” said one senior Democratic lawmaker, speaking on the condition of anonymity to be more candid.
“From the perspective of the [Democratic Caucus], this is a cup that they’d prefer not to drink from.”
This lawmaker suggested there are “a number of scenarios that people are throwing out there” to avoid a full-blown vote on the chairmanship. According to aides and outside lobbyists one idea being floated would be an agreement by Dingell to step aside after one more term atop the panel.
While Pelosi takes a pass on this debate, other leaders have encouraged the two men to broker a compromise. Hoyer has natural ties to the moderate Dingell. But Waxman played a key role in Hoyer’s ascension to majority leader during the Murtha fight by rallying support for Hoyer among fellow liberals.
Waxman surprised Dingell when he announced his candidacy, forcing Dingell to scramble a team to whip votes within the Democratic Caucus. Dingell’s top supporters — Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Doyle, Texas Rep. Chet Edwards, Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak and Illinois Rep.
Bobby L. Rush have sent colleagues a series of letters on behalf of the chairman. Dingell also scheduled a fundraising breakfast with Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.) next Wednesday at the Democratic National Committee to help incoming freshmen retire their campaign debt.
This fight threatens to break along ideological lines, with moderates and older members lining up behind Dingell and liberals and many of the more junior lawmakers backing the 69-year-old Waxman, aides and outside lobbyists said.
The stakes remain high because President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to overhaul the country’s energy infrastructure during his first term in the White House. Dingell, who has spent his entire career defending Michigan’s now-ailing auto industry, was slow to embrace climate-change.
Waxman, in contrast, is an aggressive advocate of curtailing carbon emissions. Pelosi did an end run around Dingell in 2007 to establish a special task force to address global warming. But Dingell has since come around, approving legislation to increase fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks.
And he now favors legislation to reduce carbon emissions over the next few decades. In an interview, Miller did not directly address Pelosi’s role in the Waxman-Dingell fight, saying only that Pelosi responds the same way to any member who wants to run for anything:
“She has the same answer for them whether it’s Henry Waxman or somebody else who thought they have the inside track on something on a committee or a chair, or whatever.
“She says, ‘If you want to run, you run,’” Miller said, channeling the speaker. “’I will never tell a member of this caucus that they should not run because the caucus is set up that way. We’ve had these contests as long as I’ve been a member of the Democratic Caucus.’ That’s it.”
Hoyer steps in Waxman-Dingell fight
By PATRICK O'CONNOR & JOHN BRESNAHAN | 11/12/08 6:37 PM