Tanner, DeGette Climb Whip Ladder

Posted January 3, 2005 at 7:12pm

In a decision designed to reap political reward for House Democrats, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has promoted a moderate Southerner and a Western woman to be two of his senior party vote-counters.

Hoyer tapped Reps. John Tanner (Tenn.) and Diana DeGette (Colo.) for the post of Chief Deputy Minority Whips. They succeed outgoing deputies Baron Hill (Ind.) and Max Sandlin (Texas) — two moderate Blue Dog Democrats who lost difficult re-election bids this cycle.

Hoyer said he chose Tanner and DeGette because of their ties to and credibility with key segments of the Caucus, as well as their overall work ethic, commitment to the party and ability to balance the Caucus’ legislative and political priorities.

He added that the new Chief Deputy Whips add geographic, gender and ideological diversity to the whip organization and ensure that it maintains strong ties to outside constituency groups, including K Street.

Tanner and DeGette represent districts in conservative-leaning swing states — states that are key to Democratic hopes of retaking the House. That was a “critical factor” in tapping the two, Hoyer said, noting that Tanner and DeGette have a handle on how Members from their states and regions might vote.

“That will make us more effective,” Hoyer said. “If you have that knowledge you can work toward creating a consensus in our party on a broad spectrum of issues.”

The Democratic whip operation includes seven chief deputies plus one Senior Chief Deputy. The Members holding these influential posts are responsible for managing vote-counting during the consideration of key bills and help develop Caucus strategy and policy.

Tanner has been a Senior Whip for the last two years, while DeGette has served as Floor Whip, a position responsible for coordinating the whip activities during key votes.

Hoyer said he selected DeGette not only because she has ties to Western Members and issues, but also because she has a reputation for hard work, loyalty and motivation. A female Member now beginning her fifth term in Congress, DeGette also hails from a state that won two new seats for Democrats this cycle, one in the House and in the Senate.

“She is a good pol,” Hoyer said. “She understands the politics of the Caucus, she has a solid view of the issues and she’s a very positive member of the Caucus.”

Tanner, for his part, is a prominent member of the Blue Dog Coalition with strong ties to Southern Members and K Street. He is one of the most senior Blue Dogs and is known for his knowledge of fiscal issues and the federal debt.

Tanner said he was initially reluctant to take the job given his commitments to the Blue Dogs, his efforts to promote fiscal discipline and his position on the Ways and Means Committee. But he said that Hoyer convinced him to accept the challenge because he wanted a moderate-to-conservative Member as a key part of his team.

“He was pretty persistent, so I finally said, well if you think I can help in that regard, I’ll try to do my part,” Tanner said.

Hoyer said he pressed Tanner because he represents ideological diversity and has key alliances in the House.

“He doesn’t need a title,” Hoyer said. “He is one of our most respected Members. But I urged him to take it because I believe his presence for the Caucus and the Blue Dogs is very important.”

DeGette said she welcomes the chance to work more closely with Hoyer and help unite the party. She added that the Hoyer “whip organization held Democrats together during some very tough votes in 108th.”

Sources said Hoyer is continuing to review the whip structure to see if other changes are needed. He also will be meeting with Members in the coming weeks to gauge their opinions.

Hoyer conducted a major overhaul of the Democratic whip structure when he took over two years ago. At that time, he created new groups of whips, including Assistant Whips to help the team tally votes more aggressively, and Senior Whips to plot strategy and build consensus on upcoming votes. He also added more chief deputies to the lineup.