At the time, Waxman ripped Dingell as practicing business as usual and protecting special interests, and questioned why he would back a policy that a minority of Democrats supported.
Democratic chairmen should be getting their votes from Democrats and some Republicans, Waxman said at the time, not Republicans and some Democrats.
Markey and Waxman have advanced principles for legislation, but any bill would have to move through the Energy and Commerce Committee. Environmentalists have suggested that Dingell was not moving quickly enough to take up climate change legislation.
Waxman might also find himself in an uncomfortable spot as head of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The committees mandate is essentially to investigate the executive branch; the committee has been a launching pad for the many of the most incendiary allegations against the White House under Presidents Clinton and Bush.
But with a new Democratic president arriving on a wave of popular support, the watchdog function that Waxman clearly relishes is likely to be strictly muzzled by House leadership at least for the foreseeable future.
By contrast, the Energy and Commerce Committee could assert jurisdiction over major portions of Obamas agenda health care, alternative energy, climate change and even restoring stability to financial systems. On many of these issues, Pelosi is more closely aligned ideologically with Waxman than with Dingell, and clearly Waxman is seen as an ally of the Speaker while Dingell is not.
Dingell might be able to argue that since so much of the presidential election was about rescuing manufacturing jobs in the Midwest, it is a poor signal to replace a chairman from Michigan with a chairman from California. Also, California is already well-represented among senior leadership: Aside from Pelosi and Waxman, California Democrats already chair the Education and Labor Committee (Rep. George Miller), the Foreign Affairs Committee (Rep. Howard Berman) and the Veterans Affairs Committee (Rep. Bob Filner).
Committee chairmanships are put to a vote of the membership, but only after recommendations have been made by the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee technically two committees chaired by Pelosi allies Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Miller.
Dingells backers warn that a putsch could open Democrats up to just the kind of partisan overreach that helped lead to the 1994 Republican revolution.
A House Democratic aide sympathetic to Dingell noted his history of working to get bipartisan accomplishments signed into law.
Thats something that Democrats should be concerned about. If we dont do things differently and more on a bipartisan basis, then that might be what happens, the aide said.
A Dingell defeat could send shock waves through the chamber, tossing aside seniority and putting more power in the hands of leadership if even the oldest of old bulls like Dingell can be slaughtered.
Policy-wise, the auto industry would see the weakening of its greatest patron at the moment of its greatest need, with auto sales dropping by their greatest margin since World War II and automakers looking to the federal government for help to stave off bankruptcies and massive layoffs.
Environmentalists, who have clashed with Dingell, could see his defeat as a boon, with a greater chance to shape global warming and other legislation.