The retirement of Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has put in motion a potentially brutal fight for the top Democratic slot on the Financial Services Committee, raising sensitive issues of race, seniority and ties to a vilified financial sector.
Allies of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a veteran member of the Congressional Black Caucus, are vowing “Armageddon” if her seniority does not land her the top slot. She is next in line after Frank on the panel but faces a potential challenge from Rep. Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.).
Waters made waves this year when she publicly criticized President Barack Obama, and she faces the possibility of an ethics trial next year.
Maloney is next in seniority after Waters. Representing the east side of Manhattan and western Queens, Maloney played a key role in addressing the financial crisis of 2008.
After the 2010 elections, Democrats passed over Maloney for the ranking member position on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee when Rep. Edolphus Towns (N.Y.) stepped down as ranking member. She was next in line in seniority.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), a member of the CBC with Towns, was picked over Maloney after a tense battle. The race split the CBC, and Towns eventually sided with Maloney.
The episode could hand Maloney an argument against adhering to seniority in this case because she was bypassed before.
Waters’ allies are confident she will prevail and are casting Maloney as too tied to Wall Street.
“This has the potential to be a real test of the values of the Democratic Party, whether you’re going to go with someone who’s consumer-oriented … or someone who has the interests of the banks,” an aide to a CBC member said. This same source predicted “Armageddon” if Waters was passed over.
CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a member of the Financial Services panel, called speculation that Waters would be passed over “irrelevant” and said he expects her to secure full support from the CBC and Democrats on the committee.
“Make no mistake, she is a tough sister. But she also knows legislation and figuring out what’s best for the unprotected public,” Cleaver said.
Waters’ critics, however, ask in blunt terms whether she is capable of doing the job.
“If anything hurts her, it’s that people think she’s wacky when it comes to this stuff,” a Democratic lobbyist said. “The fine details elude her. ... Could you envision a Dodd-Waters [financial reform] bill? A lot of people think probably not.”