Maryland lawmaker gets top Democratic House oversight spot

It took a few days, but House Democrats have settled on Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland to be the Oversight and Government Affairs Committee's ranking member. His chief responsibility next year will be to go head-to-head with the incoming chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. Cummings beat out a senior committee member, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., for the spot.

The decision Thursday by the Democratic steering committee in charge of panel assignments must be ratified by the full Democratic Caucus, but the 33-18 steering vote indicates strong support for Cummings.

Maloney and Cummings sought the top Democratic spot on the committee after the current chairman, Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., removed himself from consideration. Towns had said he would fight to retain his top Democrat post amid speculation Cummings, Maloney and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, would challenge him. Kucinich bowed out this week and threw his support behind Cummings. Towns backed Maloney.

Democrats expect Issa to be a thorn in the Obama administration's side, and they need a strong presence to counter him. "This is a critical moment for the committee," Cummings said. "It will be the mouthpiece … for Republican attacks on the Democratic Caucus, friends of Democrats, and the Obama administration."

Maloney is the most senior member on the panel after Towns, and she would have been the first woman to hold the ranking Democrat post, she argued to the steering committee in a letter. Maloney also persuaded New York Democrats to back her, including Towns and Rep. Charles Rangel, both members of the Congressional Black Caucus (along with Cummings).

Cummings downplayed suggestions that the tussle between him and Maloney signaled a broader battle between Democratic leaders and the Congressional Black Caucus. "I have a very wide cross-section of members from Blue Dogs to Black Caucus members," he said.

New York Democrats showed their personality in advocating for Maloney. "Rep. Maloney has the moxie -a New York trademark-and dogged determination to stand up to the Republicans," the delegation said in a letter to the steering committee. Unfortunately for Maloney, their moxie wasn't enough.

By virtue of stepping down from the top Oversight spot, Towns will reclaim a seat he vacated on the A-list Energy and Commerce Committee. He can also retain a spot on the Oversight panel, even though other members might not be allowed to sit on both. Towns spelled out these terms in a chilly December 15 letter to Pelosi, saying he chose to withdraw from the race for Oversight ranking member "when you made it clear I did not have your support."

The Republicans, meanwhile, added 12 members (and one returning, Rep. Todd Platts, R-Pa.) to a roster that includes Reps. Dan Burton of Indiana, Jason Chaffetz of Utah, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, John Mica of Florida and Michael Turner of Ohio. Rep. Connie Mack of Florida and Rep-elect Tim Walberg, who served in the 110th Congress, are the two new members of the Oversight Committee who aren't freshman Republicans.

The freshman GOP members of the Oversight Committee include Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan; Ann Marie Buerkle of New York; Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee; Blake Farenholt of Texas; Paul Gosar of Arizona; Trey Gowdy of South Carolina; Frank Guinta of New Hampshire; Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania; Idaho's Raul Labrador; James Lankford of Oklahoma; Pennsylvania's Pat Meehan of Pennsylvania; Dennis Ross of Florida; and Joe Walsh of Illinois.

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