BY LINDSEY MCPHERSON AND REMA RAHMAN
A little more than two months ago, 63 House Democrats voted for a change at the top of their leadership structure. Now, in an unexpected turn of events, some of the most vocal critics of the existing power system are in new leadership positions of their own.
Ohio Democrat Tim Ryan, who challenged House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for her post, is now the ranking member of the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, a position that gives him oversight of Congress’ internal spending, including money spent on leadership offices and members’ salaries, as well as Capitol Police.
Some of Ryan’s most vocal backers have also found themselves with new ranking member slots, like New York Rep. Kathleen Rice, now the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee, and Ohio Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, the top Democrat on the Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry.
Ryan, Rice and Fudge all said they got their leadership posts because of committee seniority and procedures for determining ranking members, not any effort by leadership to make nice or show there are no hard feelings from the minority leader race.
While that may indeed be the case, the fact that Ryan and his supporters advanced is a slightly unexpected turn of events, given the longstanding belief that crossing Pelosi can be hazardous to one’s career.
A Pelosi aide said the leader rejects retaliation tactics like removing dissenters from committee assignments -- that such actions are counterproductive and she would rather build consensus.
“She has always seen the caucus as a kaleidoscope, alignments shifting as you turn the dial,” the aide said in an email.
Ryan, for one, said in an interview during the minority leader’s race that challenging current leadership was “risky” and can go against a members’ personal interest.
When asked whether leadership had a hand in her new ranking-member post, Rice said, “The fact that we’re even talking about this is part of the problem.”
“You have to be kept in line. This is ridiculous,” she added.
Massachusetts Democrat Seth Moulton, who was also outspoken about his support for Ryan, was recently named senior whip. He said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer called him over the December holiday break to offer the post.
Moulton declined to speculate whether Hoyer’s offer was intended as a gesture of goodwill following the minority leader race, but he said he was not surprised to get the position after calling for more more opportunities to be made available in leadership.
“I think people in the caucus appreciate those who are willing to stand up,” he said.
Hoyer, in a statement announcing Moulton’s new role, cited “his experience serving our country in the military and working in the private sector to champion policies that keep America safe and help grow our economy.”
Ryan, who came away with one-third of the vote from the 194-member Democratic caucus last year, said “no” plainly when asked if his new role on Appropriations had come as an olive branch from leadership.
“It just kind of happened because we pick subcommittees based on seniority,” he said. “It was just a result of the process.”
Rice, too, said she was in line for her position under the internal committee selection process and that it had nothing to do with leadership.
However, the congresswoman did note that she might have been affected negatively. She didn’t get a seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee that she put in a request for three months prior to the leadership election.
Three members who were named to the committee rank lower than Rice in seniority, including one from her state of New York.
“No question,” she said, when asked if she felt she would have gotten a seat if she hadn’t publicly backed Ryan. “I pay all my dues. I gave money to incumbent colleagues of mine who were, you know, front-liners. I gave money to ‘Red to Blue’ candidates, as directed by the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee]. … I’m a team player,” she said of her contributions to Democratic colleagues and candidates in competitive races.
Fudge said she previously held a ranking member position on Agriculture’s Nutrition Subcommittee, and her new position as ranking member on the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee was simply about the panel trying to ensure they have leaders in place who can influence the upcoming farm bill negotiations.
“It didn’t have anything to do with that,” she said when asked whether leadership was extending a peace offering.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, also a Ryan backer, said he hasn’t experienced any repercussions for criticizing the current leadership. The Arizona Democrat, whose only ascension in leadership this year was moving from whip of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to second vice chairman, said his seat on the Armed Services Committee gives him the platform he needs even if he doesn’t have the title.
“It’s my job to keep the leader accountable, to keep my caucus on the right type of footing to fight Trump and to take back seats,” Gallego said. “I will continue doing that whether or not I get subcommittee meetings or ranking members, whatever the hell it is.”
Fudge laughed when asked whether she’s felt ramifications from leadership for her decision to back Ryan.
“No, not really,” she said. “I mean, you got to realize, I got 80 percent of the vote in my district. There’s not a whole lot anybody can do to me.”