- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 2, 2010

House Democrats are poised to keep their committee leadership hierarchy intact despite suffering historic losses in last month’s midterm elections - a scenario viewed as curious by many in Washington and imprudent by some unhappy members of the new minority.

The stand-pat stance comes after the House Democratic Caucus decided to re-elect its overall leadership team, despite losing control of the chamber to Republicans for the first time in four years.

“I truly think that the leadership should’ve changed up somewhat,” said Rep. Bobby Bright of Alabama, one of several moderate Democrats who were voted out of office Nov. 2. The Democratic leadership team led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California “was the only issue that I had to answer to [while campaigning], and my opponent made it the only sole issue.”

Mr. Bright added that he is still “surprised that there’s no change in committee assignments, too.”

Republicans, who will have a majority in the House in January, also have kept their top leadership. But the GOP also has had spirited battles for other posts, including the chairmanship of two of the most powerful panels: the Appropriations and Energy and Commerce committees.

In one of the only Democratic committee battles, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio has challenged Rep. Edolphus Towns of New York for the party’s top spot on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on which Mr. Towns currently serves as chairman.

Mr. Kucinich didn’t mention Mr. Towns by name in a recent letter to colleagues announcing his candidacy. But the outspoken liberal said the panel needs a strong counterbalance to the presumed incoming chairman, California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, who has vowed to hold almost daily hearings probing the Obama administration.

Mr. Towns has been criticized in the past for not standing up to Mr. Issa, and some Democrats fear that a Issa-controlled panel could cause serious headaches and embarrassment for the administration.

“We cannot simply stand by idly and hope that such a reckless approach to the use of the power of the chair will not happen,” Mr. Kucinich wrote. “With the change in the leadership of the committee, we must be ready to preserve that goal tirelessly, courageously and unstintingly. That is the only way we can defend the integrity of congressional oversight from becoming an abusive power.”

While Mr. Kucinich told MSNBC last month that Mr. Towns is a “good man” and “my friend,” he said his desire to be the panel’s top Democrat stems from “an approach which I think is going to be necessary to deal with Mr. Issa.”

A spokesman for Mr. Towns said the lawmaker declined to comment on the race.

Mr. Kucinich’s challenge is considered a long shot, as he is the fifth-ranking Democrat on the committee. Mr. Towns also is expected to receive strong support from his fellow members on the Congressional Black Caucus.

House leaders from both parties are expected to announce by next week their decisions on committee leadership posts. The choices then must be ratified by the full party membership, though this action usually is rubber stamp of the leaders’ wishes.

House Democrats last month voted to keep Mrs. Pelosi as their leader, turning back a largely symbolic challenge from moderate North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler. The vote was 150-43, with the California Democrat keeping her post despite a net loss of at least 63 House seats in the Nov. 2 midterm elections.

The caucus also voted to return its other top leaders. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland will retain his spot as the caucus’ No. 2 leader, as he was elected House minority whip.

And in a move intended to avoid intraparty strife, current House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, who initially challenged Mr. Hoyer forwhip, was elected to the newly created position of assistant minority leader.

Only Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who served the past two election cycles as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee - the House Democrats’ chief fundraising and recruiting arm - left a top leadership post.

But even Mr. Van Hollen was given a consolation prize, as the leadership team tabbed him to become the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

While the Armed Services and the Ways and Means committees have races for the top Democratic spot, neither features a challenge to a true incumbent leader.

Ways and Means Chairman Sander M. Levin of Michigan has been challenged by Rep. Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts. But Mr. Levin, who only who took control of the gavel months ago when former chairman Rep. Charles B. Rangel stepped aside while embroiled in an ethics investigation, was considered a temporary placeholder.

With the House’s censure of Mr. Rangel on Thursday for financial and fundraising misdeeds, the panel’s ranking- member spot is considered an open race.

The top Democratic spot on the House Armed Services Committee also is in doubt, but only after several of the panel’s leading Democrats, including Chairman Ike Skelton of Missouri, lost re-election bids Nov. 2. Seeking the post are Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas, considered the front-runner, and Reps. Adam Smith of Washington and Loretta Sanchez of California.



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