- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California won a key preliminary skirmish in his fight to take over the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee from longtime Chairman John D. Dingell of Michigan.

The Waxman-Dingell contest pits two of the House’s most powerful Democratic veterans in a fight to control a committee expected to be at the center of debates over critical issues such as health care, energy and the environment under the incoming Obama administration.

The 47 members of the House Democratic Steering Committee, who include all of the party’s most powerful leaders in the House, voted 25-22 in favor of Mr. Waxman.

The full 255-member House Democratic caucus votes Thursday on the committee leadership posts, and Mr. Waxman’s narrow win is seen as a strong signal that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats are backing his challenge.

Mrs. Pelosi officially is neutral in the battle between the titans and did not speak during the closed-door Steering Committee meeting, a Democrat said.

Asked how the meeting went, a smiling Mr. Waxman told reporters when leaving the room, “We’ll see. I made my case.”

The 82-year-old Mr. Dingell, the longest-serving Democrat in the chamber, has been the senior Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee for nearly three decades.

He is seen as a fierce defender of Detroit and the Big Three automakers, opposing moves to toughen pollution standards for U.S.-made cars. His bid to hold on to the chairman’s gavel has been supported by a number of other long-service House Democrats, who fear his ouster could upset the system of seniority that reserves top posts to the longest-serving members.

The House Democratic rank-and-file has in the past stuck with embattled chairmen despite the recommendation of the steering committee. Neither side was predicting how Thursday’s vote would go.

The 69-year-old Mr. Waxman, whose California district includes Hollywood, is seen as far more liberal on a number of issues, including environmental controls and climate change. He currently chairs the committee’s lead investigative subcommittee.