CBC Awaits Its Rewards

Eye Top Posts on Intel, House Admin

Posted January 3, 2003 at 6:25pm

Congressional Black Caucus members, still stinging over the fact that newly elected Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) passed over one of their own for the chairmanship of House Democrats’ fundraising arm, are tempering their complaints in the hopes that she will elevate CBC members to other plum posts this week.

CBC members were upset by Pelosi’s pre-Christmas decision not to choose Rep. William Jefferson (La.), a senior member of the Black Caucus, as the next chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Jefferson was the only Member actively vying for the job, but Pelosi instead tapped fellow California Rep. Robert Matsui.

Black Caucus members aren’t griping too loudly over the slight, sources said, since Pelosi still has several key appointments to make beginning today and several of their members are in line. But Democratic sources stressed that Pelosi had offered no firm commitments to tapping CBC members.

Starting at 11 a.m. today the Democratic Steering Committee will begin doling out committee posts for the new Congress. Among the plums are slots on Appropriations and the ranking member jobs on House Administration and House Intelligence, both of which hold possibilities for key black Members.

“I think the leader, in her wide range of appointments to a variety of posts, will need to take into account the contributions of every part of the Caucus, most importantly the CBC,” said Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.). “Unlike the Republican caucus, we have a very diverse group of people.”

Fattah, in fact, is a strong possibility for one of those posts as one of the top ranking Democrats on the House Administration Committee. The ranking member position is becoming open since Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is relinquishing his seat.

The Select Intelligence ranking member post is being vacated by Pelosi, leaving CBC member Sanford Bishop (Ga.) and Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.) vying to replace her.

Democratic sources said with other appointments outstanding, the fallout over Jefferson’s bypass could still be minimized. But they cautioned that passing over CBC members for the other key positions could hamper Pelosi’s quest for a unified Caucus.

When asked what the likely reaction from CBC members if they aren’t given those spots, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), incoming CBC chairman, would only say: “We’re going to have to cross that bridge when we get there.”

Cummings also said he didn’t yet know what the backlash over the DCCC choice will be because “honestly I haven’t had a chance to talk to many CBC members. I’d venture to guess it hasn’t been fully focused on their radar yet.”

[IMGCAP(1)] Fattah stressed, however, that while disappointed over Jefferson, CBC members are relishing the fact that the Caucus elected Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.) as vice chairman. He now becomes the highest-ranking black Member of Congress.

“The political process is going to have wins and losses,” Fattah said.

Cummings said his caucus believed Jefferson was more than deserving of the post, given his fundraising abilities and knowledge of Southern swing districts so key to Democratic victories in 2004. And, he’s widely credited with helping seal the December runoff victories of Rep.-elect Rodney Alexander in Louisiana’s 5th district and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) with a strong black vote.

But one Democratic insider speculated that the CBC’s efforts on behalf of Jefferson might not have been all that had been hoped for, saying: “The members of the Black Caucus have the power, seniority and influence that is equal to the entire Democratic California delegation [of which Matsui is a part]. If they would have used their power and influence, if Bill Jefferson had the full backing of the CBC, then he would have been chairman.”

Another Democratic aide suggested: “The damage with the CBC could have been a lot worse if it hadn’t been Bob Matsui, mainly because he’s so widely respected, but he’s also more senior than Jefferson on Ways and Means and it also helps that he is a person of color, even if he isn’t African-American.” Matsui is Japanese-American.

Twenty-two members of the CBC signed a letter endorsing Jefferson, and many personally made calls to Pelosi pitching his selection.

Cummings said regardless of Jefferson’s outcome, the remaining appointments are no more important now, given the part blacks play in helping win Democratic elections nationwide.

“We’ve consistently said we want to play significant roles in the leadership of Democrats,” said Cummings.

“We’re very pleased that the Democrats elected James Clyburn, that meant a lot to all of us. But we wanted to be clear that when we are asked to play significant roles in elections, we also want it to yield the kind of positions that are consistent with the support we give and our constituents give.”