Democratic candidate Hans Keirstead faced a familiar question at a local party meeting in November: What kind of committees could you sit on, and how would that benefit the district?
But his answer has caused some confusion.
Keirstead, who is running in California’s 48th District, said he would have more influence than your average first-term congressman.
The prominent cancer researcher and political newcomer said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, a top member of leadership, told him he would like to give Keirstead an “early appointment” on the influential Appropriations Committee, and that leaders wanted to make him chairman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee.
It turns out that wasn’t the case.
Hoyer’s office denied that the whip made such assertions.
“No, neither of those statements is remotely true,” the Maryland Democrat’s spokeswoman Katie Grant said in a statement.“The idea that Mr. Hoyer would promise a candidate either a chairmanship or a seat on Appropriations is preposterous.”
Keirstead’s spokesman clarified that he was actually encouraged to pursue appointments to key committees.
“He was encouraged by Democratic leadership to pursue meaningful appointments to committees that reflect the needs of the district and where his unique skill set would have an impact,” campaign spokesman Kyle Quinn-Quesada said.
“Hans is aware that he could have provided more context about his discussion of committees with leadership and does now when asked the same question,” Quinn-Quesada said.
At a monthly meeting for the Democratic Club of Seal Beach, Keirstead said he was aggressively recruited by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to take on Republican incumbent Dana Rohrabacher, one of the most vulnerable incumbents in 2018.
Keirstead, the CEO of clinical research company AIVITA Biomedical, said he wanted to make sure he wasn’t leaving his current role for a job in which he would have little influence.
“It’s not inspiring for me to become a freshman congressman and to be pushed around and told what to vote on by my party and have no power or control,” he said in a video recording of the meeting.
He described meeting with dozens of members of Congress, including top leaders like Hoyer.
“I have been honored, I have been just humbled by the fact that they want me to chair the Science Committee, which is actually no great compliment because it’s an embarrassment,” Keirstead said.
“So in a meeting that I had with Steny Hoyer, he said, ‘We would like to put you as chairman of the Science Committee, rejigger that thing, get it, get it working and get it up to scruff. But that’s not going to do you any favors in the short term. I’d also like to give you an early appointment onto Appropriations,’” Keirstead said.
Democrats, of course, would have to win back the House in order to take control of chamber committees. And they believe flipping Rohrabacher’s Orange County district is key to that effort. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Tilt Republican.
Watch: House and Senate Battlegrounds Taking Shape for 2018
The House Democratic Caucus relies heavily on seniority when selecting committee chairmen. The Science, Space and Technology Committee, which has jurisdiction over research and development projects, has 16 Democrats on the panel, and most would be senior to Keirstead if he is elected.
Committee assignments are determined by the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee at the beginning of each Congress. Lawmakers can lobby for spots on desired panels, but determinations involve an array of factors including seniority, available openings, regional balance, and a lawmaker’s applicability to the committee’s issues.
The Appropriations Committee is one of the most powerful panels in Congress since it oversees government spending. It is also an exclusive committee for Democrats, meaning members on Appropriations do not serve on other panels.
Keirstead said at the November meeting that a seat on the committee would give him considerable sway over health care issues.
“I will be one of the most influential people in science, medicine and health care in this nation,” he said.
Keirstead also said the prospect of having influence, even as a first-term lawmaker, is one of the reasons he decided to run for Congress.
“So freshman congressman, bring it on. That’s fine. I don’t mind being the junior guy with a whole bunch of influence there,” he said.
Keirstead is one of the top candidates in a crowded field of Democrats vying to take on Rohrabacher. He had more than $302,000 in cash on hand at the end of the third quarter last year, according to Federal Election Commission documents.
Realtor Harley Rouda is also in the race, and had nearly $373,000 in the bank. Omar Siddiqui, a former Republican who has worked in the FBI, had more than $308,000 on hand, with the bulk of his haul coming from a personal loan to his campaign.