On Friday, Nov. 14, events unfolded on Capitol Hill that hinted at a political cunning on President-elect Barack Obama’s part that may exceed what anyone has anticipated.
One senator who campaigned against Mr. Obama was spared the indignity of losing his chairmanship, while a House lawmaker was toppled to make way for another more in line with Mr. Obama’s objectives on energy and healthcare legislation.
Mr. Obama garnered public praise for bipartisan peacemaking while at the same time shoved aside a senior lawmaker who represented an obstacle to his policy objectives.
More details on what happened that day are in today’s story on Phil Schiliro, Mr. Obama’s head of legislative affairs, who previously worked for Rep. Henry Waxman, California Democrat, for 25 of the last 26 years.
Mr. Schiliro also stands as something of a symbol for how Mr. Obama appears set on governing. His rise within Mr. Obama’s world in the past several months was widely interpreted as a signal from the president-elect that tipped a power struggle over the Energy and Commerce chairmanship in Mr. Waxman’s favor.
One day after Mr. Obama’s election, he named Mr. Schiliro to one of 13 positions on the transition senior staff.
If the writing on the wall hadn’t been clear enough over the summer, it was obvious at that point: Mr. Schiliro would run the White House office of legislative affairs come January.
The official announcement came Nov. 15, and five days later, Mr. Waxman toppled Rep. John D. Dingell of Michigan from the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which the Michigan Democrat had held in every Democrat-controlled Congress since 1981.
Many saw Mr. Schiliro’s elevation within the incoming Obama administration as a clear gesture that the president-elect wanted Mr. Waxman in and Mr. Dingell out.
“Waxman is ready and willing to work closely with the Obama administration from Day One,” said Mr. Johnson, who wrote about the Waxman coup for one of CAP’s blogs, the Wonk Room.
“If Obama orchestrated this, then he did it in a very effective way where it was not done in public and without any fingerprints,” Mr. Johnson said.
On the day when Mr. Waxman shoved Mr. Dingell aside, Mr. Obama was catching flak from some in the left-wing blogosphere for his involvement in helping Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, keep his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
The president-elect had made a public gesture of bipartisanship and allowed a political opponent to retain a hold on power while surreptitiously approving the dethronement of a man who stood in the way of his policy goals.
On a different topic, the most interesting quote from today’s story on President Bush’s meeting with Israel’s caretaker prime minister on Monday at the White House came from none other than Sen. Hilary Clinton, New York Democrat.
“A process is better than no process,” she said.