The vote was 118-72, according to Virginia Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, who declined to say whom he voted for, citing the secret ballot process. The caucus action followed the recommendation made Tuesday by the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.
Nadler, who had a two-year edge in seniority over Lofgren, replaces John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, who resigned from Congress earlier this month amid allegations of sexual misconduct. As the next member in line in seniority, Nadler has been serving as acting ranking member since Conyers stepped aside.
Should Democrats retake the House in the 2018 midterm elections, Nadler would become chairman of the Judiciary panel and lead the party in its oversight of President Donald Trump and his administration, a consideration members kept in mind during the intraparty contest.
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Many members said Nadler and Lofgren were both qualified candidates but acknowledged seniority was a deciding factor in backing the New York congressman, who was first elected in 1992. House Democratic Caucus rules say seniority should be a factor in determining committee leaders.
“I’m not a firm believer in seniority, but I do believe that when all factors are relatively equal it [is] the determinate or a determinate,” Michigan Rep. Dan Kildee said of his vote for Nadler.
Rep. Rick Larsen said he is not ready to buck the seniority tradition, even though it’s not a hard and fast rule. Nadler “has served on all of the subcommittees, which is a bit of a distinguishing factor,” the Washington Democrat added.
Nadler said in a statement after the vote that his goals include overhauling the criminal justice system, enacting “common sense” gun laws, protecting women’s rights, promoting greater equality for the LGBTQ community, supporting consumers and overseeing antitrust concerns. At the end of his list was holding the Trump administration accountable for “destructive policies and unprecedented misconduct.”
“This is a critical time in our nation’s history, and the work of the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee is more important than ever,” he said. “Our efforts — to hold the Administration and those wishing to turn back history’s long arc towards justice accountable — are central to the defense of progress and democracy.”
Those efforts will become more important if Democrats take back the House in 2018 and Nadler becomes committee chairman, a role in which he could eventually lead impeachment proceedings against Trump.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was one of the members who nominated Nadler during Wednesday’s caucus vote. The Maryland Democrat said he already works closely with Judiciary in coordinating the party’s work to hold the Trump administration accountable and that work would likely increase if Democrats were to control the House.
Cummings added that the obstacle to their current efforts has been the GOP. “If we had a tiny bit of Republican help, we could do a lot,” he said.
Rep. Tony Cárdenas, a member of Democratic leadership, said he supported Lofgren but is not disappointed in the result given that both candidates are “stellar” and know the law and the Constitution.
The California Democrat cited Lofgren’s background as an immigration lawyer and her understanding of international human rights as reasons for supporting her.
“My big difference was that Zoe has literally visited facilities with the Hispanic Caucus members and literally educated many of our members on the spot about how to treat people with dignity,” he said.
Part of Lofgren’s pitch was about the opportunity for the caucus to elect a woman — she would’ve been the first to hold a leadership position on Judiciary — especially in the current climate where women are taking a stand against sexual harassment.
“That would have been a nice plus,” Cárdenas said.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky said she understands Lofgren’s argument but she backed Nadler. She noted that Nadler has been a supporter of women’s rights throughout his entire career.
“I think people felt that certainly on the issues that there’s not going to be someone that’s a stronger fighter than Jerry,” the Illinois Democrat said. “He’s made a priority of these issues.”
Schakowsky said sometimes Nadler is the only man in the room when Democrats are discussing women’s issues, citing his service on a select committee that investigated Planned Parenthood and its use of taxpayer funds. She was the top Democrat on that panel.
“The other thing is Jerry is a really courageous person,” she said, noting his votes in favor of the Iran nuclear deal and opposition to the antiterrorism law known as the Patriot Act.