Steering Divides Votes Between Dingell, Waxman

Posted November 19, 2008 at 12:44pm

The Democratic Steering and Policy Committee voted Wednesday to recommend that Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) replace Rep. John Dingell (Mich.) as the Energy and Commerce chairman in the next Congress.

But the vote, 25 for Waxman and 22 for Dingell, means both lawmakers are eligible for the gavel and the fight now goes before the full Democratic Caucus, which meets Thursday morning to decide the outcome.

Dingell currently chairs the Energy panel. Waxman is No. 2 on the committee, and launched a surprise bid to wrest the gavel in the wake of the Nov. 4 elections that enlarged the House Democratic majority.

Both contenders needed to gather at least 14 votes to advance to the full Caucus, which will convene at 9 a.m. Thursday. Neither man enters Thursday’s session with a distinct advantage, a reality underscored by Wednesday’s vote.

Indeed, the Steering Committee’s endorsement does not guarantee Waxman an edge before the full Caucus.

The last time Democrats faced a high-profile fight for a top committee slot, in 1996, Rep. Henry Gonzalez (D-Texas), the then-ranking member on the Banking and Financial Services Committee, failed to secure the backing of the Steering Committee. But when the contest reached the full Caucus, Gonzalez beat back challenges from the second- and third-ranking Democrats on the panel to retain his position.

Dingell backers tried to put a positive spin on the outcome of Wednesday’s vote, arguing that the Steering Committee does not reflect the diversity of the broader Caucus.

“It was a strong vote and better than a lot of us had expected,” Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) said in a conference call.