Rosa DeLauro wins panel vote for Appropriations gavel

Steering and Policy Committee recommendation now goes before the Democratic caucus

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., speaks during a news conference on child care relief bills on Wednesday, July 29, 2020.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., speaks during a news conference on child care relief bills on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted December 1, 2020 at 3:32pm, Updated at 3:52pm

A House Democratic panel in charge of committee selections gave Rosa DeLauro the nod to become the next Appropriations chairwoman after a closed-door vote Tuesday.

The Connecticut Democrat received 36 votes from Democratic Steering and Policy Committee members, according to a source familiar with the vote. That total eclipsed the 11 votes received by Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and six that went to Marcy Kaptur of Ohio.

"This vote is a sign that our caucus is unified and ready for bold, pragmatic actions to deliver results for the American people," DeLauro said in a statement after the vote. "I look forward to the work ahead."

DeLauro still needs the backing of the full House Democratic Caucus to succeed retiring chairwoman Nita M. Lowey of New York. That caucus vote is expected on Thursday, with Kaptur and Wasserman Schultz each getting another shot to overturn the steering panel’s recommendation.

Kaptur was the most senior candidate on the committee to take the gavel, but seniority isn’t the dominant factor it once was. In 2012, Kaptur lost out to Lowey, who had less seniority at the time, in a bid to replace retiring ranking Democrat Norm Dicks of Washington.

DeLauro was considered a leading contender to become chairwoman, in part because of her close relationships with Lowey and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The three served together on Appropriations from 1993 until 2003, when Pelosi left the panel to focus on her leadership duties.

“We were known as the DeLoSis — DeLauro, Lowey and Pelosi. Oftentimes they would see us on the floor and say, ‘What are they scheming?’ And we were scheming,” DeLauro said in July while leading the Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee markup.

“The DeLoSi team, as we were known at the time, was up to all kinds of special activities, which we won’t share here today,” Lowey added.

DeLauro also has a long track record of promoting progressive policies and racked up numerous endorsements, including from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, National Education Association President Becky Pringle, National Women’s Law Center President and CEO Fatima Goss Graves and Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry.

DeLauro needed a simple majority of the votes in steering to receive their recommendation. The winner of Thursday’s full caucus vote will need to achieve that same simple majority threshold. That likely means more than one vote will be held, with the third-place finisher dropping off after the first vote.

In previous years, House Democratic Steering Committee recommendations for leadership of “exclusive” panels like Appropriations have been overturned by the caucus, including in late 2010 for Ways and Means and 2014 for Energy and Commerce.

Close vote

The final vote could be close, with Wasserman Schultz considered to have a better chance at knocking off DeLauro.

Wasserman Schultz is the most prolific party fundraiser of the three and has racked up substantial endorsements of her own across the caucus, including from members of the large and influential Florida delegation and Congressional Black Caucus.

Reps. Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri and Alcee L. Hastings of Florida announced their support for Wasserman Schultz in a September letter. “As we move into a new decade, Debbie will ensure we have strong, strategic, savvy and empathetic leadership to bring about sensible 21st-century reforms that will make the appropriations process more inclusive, accessible and transparent for all members,” they wrote.

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Wasserman Schultz released a set of proposals to overhaul the panel’s operations that have won plaudits, including on setting aside funds for minority and underserved communities as well as a “climate action” plan.

DeLauro released her own set of proposals in September.

Under DeLauro’s plan, freshman members will get a session dedicated to the hard-to-navigate appropriations process during orientation and be paired with an Appropriations Committee mentor. Each major caucus can expect to meet with DeLauro quarterly.

Appropriations subcommittee leaders are likely to have monthly or biweekly meetings to encourage better communication. And each of the dozen subcommittees will be tasked with reviewing a set of programs to address waste, fraud and abuse of government funds under DeLauro’s proposals.

In addition to changes to the structure of the panel, there will be significant changes to subcommittee leadership come January.

Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota is expected to become chairwoman of the Defense Subcommittee, and Rep. Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania is next in line to lead the Commerce-Justice-Science panel after retirements. McCollum’s move from the Interior-Environment Subcommittee means Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine will take over that panel as chairwoman. And Rep. Barbara Lee of California is expected to get the gavel on the State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee once Lowey officially retires.

DeLauro would likely remain chairwoman of the Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee, which controls the largest piece of the domestic discretionary spending pie at roughly $190 billion annually.

It’s been a tradition among House Democrats for full Appropriations Committee leaders to also remain the top Democrat on a subcommittee. Lowey kept the State-Foreign Operations panel during her tenure as the full committee’s ranking member and then chairwoman starting in 2019; before her, Dicks maintained the top slot on Defense, the biggest subcommittee in dollar terms.

Former Wisconsin Rep. David R. Obey was the top Democrat on both the full committee and the Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee from 1995 through the start of 2011, when he retired.