- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2008

Rep. John A. Boehner was re-elected Wednesday to lead House Republicans, and Rep. Henry A. Waxman moved a step closer to ousting fellow Democrat Rep. John D. Dingell from a key committee chairmanship, as the parties penciled in the lineups to face off next year in Barack Obama’s Washington.

Mr. Waxman of California narrowly won an early skirmish in the fight over the House Energy and Commerce Committee, capturing the nomination for the post in a 25-22 vote of the Democratic Steering Committee.

Also Wednesday, Mr. Obama continued to fill out the team at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, picking former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota as Health and Human Services secretary.

A vote Thursday by all House Democrats will decide whether Mr. Dingell of Michigan keeps the reins of a committee that is key to Democrats’ plans to tackle climate change and the health care system.

Mr. Dingell, 82, is the chamber’s longest-serving Democrat and has more than three decades on the committee. He is also closely allied with U.S. automakers and utilities - a position that has pitted him against Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, on some environmental issues.

The challenge by Mr. Waxman, 69, a fierce partisan whose Los Angeles district includes affluent Beverly Hills neighborhoods, is widely viewed as a move by Mrs. Pelosi to clear the way to push the leaderships’ liberal environmental and health care agenda through the committee.

The backing of the speaker and the party’s steering committee does not automatically guarantee election, especially when they conflict with the seniority pecking order. Mrs. Pelosi backed Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania for majority leader when she became speaker after the 2006 elections, but her longtime rival Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland easily won the post.

The steering committee “doesn’t reflect the makeup of the caucus,” said Rep. Mike Doyle, Pennsylvania Democrat, a leading supporter of Mr. Dingell. “It’s heavily weighted with people more likely to be supportive of Henry.”

In the Republican conference, Mr. Boehner and other newly elected leaders laid out a strategy to confront the Democrats’ complete control of Washington next year with principled stands for smaller government and strong defense. They vowed to return the party to its core tenets as they fight to regain relevance after losses in two consecutive election cycles.

“House Republicans will rebuild our majority coalition by winning the issues that Americans care about most, one issue at a time,” said Mr. Boehner, who was re-elected as the leader despite the party’s losing at least 20 seats in November elections.

“I wasn’t born a Republican,” Mr. Boehner told the conference. “I didn’t know I was a Republican until I looked up one day and realized Washington was at odds with everything I believed. If history is any guide, millions of Americans will have a similar experience in the coming months as President-elect Obama and the Democrat Congress move their agenda. Our job is to make sure those Americans find a proud home in the Republican Party.”

He prevailed in the leadership election against a token challenge by Rep. Dan Lungren of California to retain his post.

The conference did infuse new blood into the leadership ranks as the secret balloting replaced four of the seven-member team.

New leaders included Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia in the No. 2 spot of minority whip, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana with the No. 3 job of conference chairman, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington as conference vice chairman and Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas taking over as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“We all have a duty to be the loyal opposition, to support the administration when we can and to vigorously oppose every time they try to keep the promises they made to the American left,” Mr. Pence said. “If we will fight for the interests of everyday Americans and offer positive substantive alternatives without unnecessary acrimony, the American people will soon tire of the flowery speeches and see the Democratic agenda for what it is - the failed ideas of the Great Society and the New Deal.

“And they will come looking for the alternative,” he said.

Returning to Republican leadership posts along with Mr. Boehner are Policy Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan and Republican Conference Secretary John Carter of Texas.

Democrats kept most of their leaders in place. Rep. John B. Larson of Connecticut was elevated from conference vice chairman to conference chairman, filling a vacancy left when Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois left to become Mr. Obama’s White House chief of staff. Rep. Xavier Becerra of California was elected caucus vice chairman.

The Dingell-Waxman contest split the 47-member steering committee in a 25-22 vote in favor of Mr. Waxman taking over the committee.

The full 255-member House Democratic caucus, which includes only the members with seats in the next Congress, votes Thursday on the committee leadership posts.

“I don’t think it’s unhealthy for Democrats to have this,” said Rep. Bob Filner, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, who has not publicly taken sides in the fight. “I think the best person for the job ought to have it.”

David R. Sands contributed to this report.

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