Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon won the contest Thursday to become ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, after Arizona Democrat Raúl M. Grijalva surprised colleagues with his decision to withdraw from consideration.
DeFazio had secured leadership backing the day before when the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee voted 33-16 to recommend him for the spot, which became vacant on Tuesday when Massachusetts Democrat Edward J. Markey was sworn in as a senator.
By exceeding a 14-point threshold, Grijalva was entitled to request a second vote from the full Democratic Caucus. Though he had signaled all along that he planned to fight until the very end, he arrived at the caucus meeting on Thursday prepared to step aside.
“I believe that, if our full Caucus were to hold a vote, I would have a chance to succeed,” Grijalva wrote in a letter Thursday to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “I do not believe that holding the vote would best serve the larger needs of our caucus or my Democratic colleagues on the Committee.”
DeFazio was the favored candidate from the beginning, touting a 20-year tenure on the committee and holding down the No.2 spot among Democrats behind Markey. Many of his colleagues were prepared to reward him not just for his environmental record but out of deference to his seniority.
In his letter to Pelosi, Grijalva, who was the seventh most senior Democrat on the panel before Markey left, wrote that he ran against DeFazio “to offer our Caucus a choice and to raise issues not often discussed,” as well as to “represent the millions of Americans not invited to the table and to highlight the importance the outside world attaches to our internal discussions.”
Grijalva had backing from most members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the majority of Democrats from Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, and a number of national Latino organizations. They saw Grijalva, indeed, as an alternative to the status quo, emphasizing his liberal politics — he is chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus — and highlighting the significance of having another ranking member at the Democratic leadership table who is a person of color and a staunch advocate for an immigration rewrite.
“You can’t just talk the talk if you really want to be the party that’s known for its achievements on diversity issues,” said Brent Wilkes, executive director of the National Hispanic Leadership Council.
Grijalva said in his letter to Pelosi that the engagement of the outside groups was healthy.
“My belief is stronger than ever that the Democratic Party must remember these voices and why they felt so strongly about the outcome,” Grijalva wrote. “I believe their very legitimate fight for a greater role in the Democratic Party decision-making continues well beyond this afternoon.”
Leading up to Thursday’s meeting, Wilkes’ organization was making calls to lawmakers in efforts to shore up last-minute support.
According to multiple sources in Democratic leadership that included high-ranking Congressional Hispanic Caucus members and their aides, there were even efforts within the Hispanic Caucus ranks to compel Grijalva to stay in the race until the bitter end — even as he was mulling whether it was right to subject himself and his colleagues to a doomed and potentially embarrassing vote.