Just days after Democrats turned in a solid victory last week, a crack in the party's armor surfaced as firebrand Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) challenged veteran Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), who at 53 years in the House is considered the dean of the chamber, for the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Senate Democrats were engaged in a little in-fighting of their own as well.
"We will need the very best leadership in Congress and our committees to succeed. That is why after long thought I have decided to seek the chairmanship of the Committee on Energy and Commerce," said Waxman, a member of the House energy panel and chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, last Wednesday.
"I view it [Waxman's power play] as very disruptive to the organization and agenda for the House," said a legislative expert on natural gas issues. "After Tuesday's victory, they [Democrats] should be working together instead of driving a wedge through the Democratic caucus. One divisive chairman in the person of Barbara Boxer is enough in Congress." Boxer (D-CA) chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Dingell, on the other hand, "works in a centrist fashion that gets results approved by the House," he said. "I don't think Waxman will win [the seat]. The more centrist Democrats won't support him. These are not people who will want to take a turn to the left."
Some believe that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is behind Waxman's power grab. There has been a history of bad blood between Dingell and Pelosi -- she stripped him of authority over global warming issues last year, Politico.com reported last Thursday. But Pelosi alone won't decide who gets the chairmanship, rather it will be up to the larger Democratic caucus.
Waxman seeks to overthrow Dingell because "he smells an opportunity," the legislative expert said. As chairman of the House oversight committee, Waxman frequently has beat up on the Bush administration and its policies, but his vocal criticism -- and thus his power to command the spotlight -- would be muted somewhat under a Democratic administration.
At 82, "Dingell is something of a legend...He's still very sharp and up to speed on a lot of issues, like climate change."
In the Senate, Democrats were seeking to punish Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), who often votes with Democrats, for his high-profile support of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) during the presidential election, the Washington Post reported Friday. Some aides on Capitol Hill indicated that Lieberman could be stripped of his chairmanship on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee as a penalty.
Prior to the elections, Democrats needed Lieberman's vote to pass their legislation. However, now that Democrats control at least 57 seats in the Senate, Lieberman's vote is no longer as essential.
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the second ranking Republican, stepped down last Thursday from his leadership position in the House. He is expected to be succeeded by Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA).
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