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No fewer than three House Democrats are running for their party’s top spot on the Appropriations Committee, a phenomenon that runs in stark contrast to Rep. Maxine Waters’ uncontested bid to lead the party on the Financial Services Committee next year.
Though Waters has been under an ethics cloud in recent years, sources said the Californian appears to have all but secured the slot being vacated by retiring Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). In fact, the ethics issue has rallied the close-knit Congressional Black Caucus behind Waters, and its protective front has helped her practically lock up the Financial Services spot despite the ongoing case.
“Waters is a powerhouse,” one senior Democratic aide observed. “Approps is a totally different story.”
Rep. Norm Dicks’ (D-Wash.) surprising retirement announcement two weeks ago sparked a quick response from several of his colleagues on the Appropriations Committee who are looking to succeed him. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), who just cleared a primary back home, is the most senior Democrat on the panel, while Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.) appears to be the most popular alternative. Rep. Jim Moran (Va.), another veteran appropriator, has also been making calls and could be among the dark-horse candidates.
Yet at the Financial Services Committee, everyone is deferring to Waters, the second-most-senior Democrat behind Frank and a longtime advocate for minority businesses. The 11-term lawmaker even flaunted her likely promotion in a speech last month at the Democratic convention in California, telling listeners that financial institutions are “shaking in their boots ... because Maxine Waters is going to be the next chair of the Financial Services Committee.”
Her colleagues don’t seem to be challenging that assertion. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, whose New York district encompasses much of Manhattan, recently told Roll Call, “I’m supporting Maxine.” Maloney had considered challenging Waters for the position.
Rep. Mel Watt (N.C.), one of several CBC members who also sit on Financial Services, offered similar comments shortly after Frank announced his retirement last year.
“I’m supporting her, and there are no circumstances under which I would contest that,” Watt said in December.
The CBC historically supports the seniority system for assigning committee leadership roles, noting that it helps the group’s Members ascend to top positions. Of course, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.) was one to buck that tradition and leapfrog Maloney after the 2010 elections to serve as the top Democrat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Maloney vigorously campaigned for that position, and observers note her loss was instructive in her decision not to mount a challenge against Waters at Financial Services.