Ways and Means Appointment Vanishes

Posted January 8, 2003 at 6:47pm

The Democratic Steering Committee handed two members of the Congressional Black Caucus coveted committee slots Wednesday, but before the move had even become official, Republicans had already decided to snatch one of the positions away.

The Steering panel appointed Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) to the Appropriations Committee and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) to the Ways and Means panel. But the Jones spot ended up on the chopping block as quickly as it was filled, after Republicans decided to pare the committee by one Democrat and one Republican.

One GOP leadership aide said GOP leaders consented to a request by Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (Calif.), who wanted to reduce the committee’s size.

“He thought it was just getting too big and too unmanageable,” the staffer said, claiming Republican leaders were not breaking their promise to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to keep ratios at the same levels on all committees because reducing the panel by a Member on each side of the aisle actually slightly improves the percentage of Democrats on the panel.

But one Democratic leadership aide countered: “If they do this it would just be completely hypocritical. It’s not what they told us they would do, and now they’re going back on their word.”

Both Bishop and Jones are members of the CBC, which had been hoping for such key appointments after an earlier slight of one of their own by Pelosi in naming the chairman of the House Democrats’ fundraising arm. Jones would have been the lone Democratic woman on Ways and Means and the only black member.

While Jones’ new position was in peril, Bishop’s appointment to Appropriations all but assured that another California lawmaker would become the ranking member on the House Intelligence panel.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) is now a virtual lock to succeed Pelosi as the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee. Bishop had been next in line on Intelligence, but Democratic sources said Wednesday he offered to bow out in exchange for a slot on Appropriations.

The decision over whom to choose as ranking member on Intelligence rests solely with Pelosi, who has yet to announce her choice. Pelosi also must decide the ranking Member on House Administration, for which Rep. Chaka Fattah (Pa.) is the likely selection.

The Steering Committee, which comprises the Democratic leaders and their appointees, also selected Rep. Marion Berry (D-Ark.), a Blue Dog, to serve on Appropriations and chose Rep. Max Sandlin (D-Texas) for the Ways and Means panel. Jones would apparently lose out on Ways and Means because she is less senior than Sandlin.

One senior Democratic aide said the Steering Committee choices show Pelosi “is trying to solidify her base within the Caucus,” noting that the four Members are largely ideologically in sync with the new leader. Also, the staffer said the new selections don’t reflect a desire to place top Democratic fundraisers in the plum committee posts.

“I don’t see it as really using the committee assignments to elect a majority,” the aide said. “There’s nobody that you look at and say, ‘That’s somebody who’s going to help us win a majority.’”

While the Steering Committee results were a mixed bag for the CBC, members of the caucus are still likely to be pleased over Bishop’s selection. CBC members were upset when Pelosi last month failed to appoint Rep. William Jefferson (La.) as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Instead, Pelosi named Rep. Robert Matsui (Calif.).

While the new positions are a boon for some, they are bound to leave others fuming, including Rep. Shelly Berkley (D-Nev.), who had been vying for a Ways and Means post for some time. In fact, Berkley had received a commitment for a slot earlier from former Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.).

Before the selections were made, Berkley said she recognizes Pelosi began her tenure as leader with a clean slate, and that old commitments didn’t necessarily hold water now.

“I understand that promises made in the past may not go along with [new] leadership,” she said. “I’m comfortable with the knowledge that I’ve done everything I can. The rest is not in my hands.”

But another Member who had received a commitment from Gephardt for an Appropriations slot did reap the reward. Berry, who earlier Wednesday said he was confident he would receive a spot, said he likewise understood those promises weren’t set in stone.

“I have always recognized that commitments are the best they can do,” he said. “I have gotten commitments from lots of people.”

On both the Appropriations and Ways and Means panels, Democrats had two open seats. Appropriations saw vacancies from Pelosi, who stepped down after becoming leader, and Rep. Carrie Meek (D-Fla.), who retired from the House. On Ways and Means, the spaces became open after Rep. William Coyne (D-Pa.) retired and Rep. Karen Thurman (D-Fla.) lost her re-election bid.

Both the Appropriations and Ways and Means committees are considered exclusives and among the most powerful in the House. Overall, four Members had originally put their names in for Appropriations, including Berry, Bishop, Rep. Leonard Boswell (Iowa) and Rep. Jim Cooper (Tenn.).

On Ways and Means, six Members were hoping for selection. In addition to Jones, Sandlin and Berkley, Reps. Brad Sherman (Calif.), Danny Davis (Ill.) and Ruben Hinojosa (Texas) also had put in for it. Ultimately, however, those who didn’t receive the selection withdrew their names before votes were taken.

Before the news struck that the GOP was taking the seat away, Pelosi said she was particularly proud of the selection of Jones, which marks “the first time in history we will have an African-American woman on Ways and Means.”

One senior Democratic aide said of the steering meeting: “These were tough choices to make. We didn’t get the ratios until last week. Certainly, we have Members who are more than deserving of the assignments.”

Susan Crabtree contributed to this report.