Waxman edges Dingell in Democratic steering panel vote
The House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee Wednesday narrowly recommended that Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., be given the chairmanship of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, but a final decision will be made Thursday by the full Democratic Caucus.
The steering committee voted, 25-22, in favor of Waxman to replace Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., according to Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who co-chairs the Steering Committee, and other members. But under House rules, both lawmakers will be able to take their candidacies to the Democratic Caucus for a final vote.
"The battle will be ultimately decided in the full Caucus either way," an aide to Dingell said. While Waxman has the official nomination of the Steering Committee, it is unclear how much weight that will have within the Caucus. Steering panel members said the close vote suggests Thursday's will be similarly tight.
"It's going to be difficult for every member," said Democratic Rep. Dennis Cardoza, who as a member of the Blue Dog Coalition and the California delegation has a foot in both camps. Cardoza declined to say how he voted.
Before the meeting, Dingell's backers set a low bar for the steering committee vote. "Geographically and regionally, this group appeals to our challenger," another Dingell aide said about the steering committee members. House rules prevented chairmen of exclusive committees from voting on the steering committee, such as House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., and Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., -- all of whom have publicly backed Dingell.
Dingell, the 82-year-old dean of the House, and Waxman, 69, who has served as chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, are expected to intensely lobby other Democrats in advance of Thursday's 9 a.m. Caucus vote. Dingell has assembled an aggressive whip team, which has been releasing almost daily announcements of members who support him. For his part, Waxman has declined to discuss his level of support, although several of his backers believe he has the votes to oust Dingell. Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., who voted for Waxman, said Waxman now has some momentum going into Thursday's meeting.
Dingell's backers put their best spin on the vote results in a conference call with reporters. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., said the vote was better than Dingell supporters expected given the political and geographical makeup of the steering committee, and that Dingell likely would have tied or won the ballot had other standing committee chairmen been allowed to vote. "We're pretty happy about this and we think it's a strong showing," Doyle said. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, said the full Caucus has a different dynamic than the steering committee. He said lawmakers elected in 2006 and during this year's election will likely support Dingell because of his legislative achievements and because of his political work and fundraising efforts on behalf of Democrats.