The incoming GOP House majority has vowed to fix what it says is a broken committee process. But the untested relationships of the many new chairmen and ranking members may hinder Republicans’ ability to make good on that promise.
Nine committees will have a different partnership at the helm, and seven more are still undecided pending the outcome of gavel challenges and leader-appointed posts. Among the key battles still to be determined are top committees such as Appropriations and Energy and Commerce.
With the Republican takeover and several longtime Democratic chairmen not returning in the next Congress, there will be more change to the leader dynamics on important panels than there has been in several years.
Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman said his relationships with his counterparts over the years have run the gamut from good to professional to downright nasty.
“I’ve had a mix,” the California Democrat said, noting he has a good relationship with ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas). “For the most part I try to recognize as a professional you have to handle yourself in an appropriate way.”
Waxman said his relationships with the top Republicans on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where he was the top Democrat from 1997 to 2009, were particularly varied.
“I did not have the best of relationships with Rep. Dan Burton [Ind.], and I had an awful relationship with a guy named [former Rep.] Bill Dannemeyer [Calif.] many years ago.”
It’s unclear who Waxman will be working with as chairman in the next Congress, and he isn’t the only top Democrat who could be starting from scratch.
Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who is expected to lead the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he was optimistic that he and Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) — the likely ranking member — will be able to work together well.
Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), the current chairman, lost re-election.
“Our committee has always been pretty bipartisan,” Mica said, adding he had already reached out to Rahall. “Oberstar and I had a good social relationship — not so much with [Rahall], but I know him. I think he’ll be very compatible to work with.”
Sometimes the relationships between new committee heads can sour fast.
“Jane Harman and I got along very, very well,” Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, said of the California Democrat who served as the ranking member in the 109th Congress. “We were able to get the things done we needed to get done.”
“Sadly, I have never had that relationship with the current chairman,” Hoekstra said, referring to Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas).
“Jane and I worked through some really tough stuff together. We did intel reform together,” he said. “This was just different.”
Reyes and Hoekstra’s most notable clash came during the Republican push for the disclosure of classified documents to determine whether the CIA lied to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) about the use of severe interrogation tactics on detainees.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.