The long-running leadership rivalry between House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer is flaring anew as the two Democrats take different sides in the fight over who will be the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee. On Tuesday, Hoyer said he would back New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone Jr. to succeed retiring Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California as the panel's top Democrat in the 114th Congress.
"I'm not going to get into this publicly other than to say that I have historically been for the ranking member, the senior member, if that member is capable and able and if that member has contributed significantly to the legislative product, to the party efforts, and I think Frank Pallone has done all of those, but I'm not going to get into it further than that," Hoyer said in his weekly media briefing. Pallone is the No. 3 Democrat on the committee.
Word had been circulating that Hoyer was supporting Pallone behind the scenes. The Maryland Democrat's delicate articulation of support for Pallone is in stark contrast to Pelosi's endorsement last week of fellow California Democrat Anna G. Eshoo, which she made with significant fanfare in a strongly worded letter circulated among her colleagues. Eshoo is No. 5 in seniority on the panel.
It's uncommon for party stalwarts to insert themselves in committee races, particularly this early in the game — members won't vote on committee assignments until after the midterm elections. It was also another break from the party's usual deference to seniority.
But Pelosi's unexpected decision to intervene on Eshoo's behalf was a game-changer: What was at first a face-off between Eshoo and Pallone could now become another showdown between Pelosi and Hoyer, rivals who have often fought for the most influence among members of the House Democratic Caucus.