Waxman vs. Dingell, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

E&E Daily (subs. req’d) reports:

Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) and some of his core supporters pushed back yesterday against Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-CA) coup attempt to take away the powerful chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

If someone is asking about John Dingell’s job, he has it, he’s going to keep it and he’s doing well,” Dingell told reporters following a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the CEOs of U.S. auto manufacturing companies.

Whoa! Since when has John Dingell stopped talking about John Dingell in the first-person? I’m also getting a Rumsfeldian vibe here, with John Dingell asking John Dingell questions that John Dingell then answers — “Is it [post-war Iraq] going to be as efficient as a dictatorship? No. Is it going to be vastly more desirable? You bet.” For the record, that is a figure of speech, anthypophora. But I digress.

Here are more excerpts from the story for those interested in the war between these stars:

Dingell, who was in a wheelchair following knee surgery three weeks ago, did not take any questions about Waxman’s surprise bid for the gavel. But Dingell’s backers questioned Waxman’s credentials for unseating the 27-term lawmaker during a late afternoon press conference.

“You need a reason, not just, ‘I want to be committee chairman,'” said Rep. Bart Stupak, also a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. “I’m a subcommittee chairman, but I don’t have delusions of grandeur that I’m entitled to be chairman of Energy and Commerce no matter how long I’ve sat on that committee. Mr. Dingell has done the job. He’s legendary. He can move legislation. There’s no reason to make a change.”

Rep. Mike Doyle, a seven-term Democrat from Pittsburgh, described a pointed telephone conversation that he had with Waxman earlier this week.

“I asked him rather pointedly what his basis for challenging Mr. Dingell was, and he was unable to give me a single reason why he thought Mr. Dingell shouldn’t be the chairman of the committee other than the fact that he thought he’d be a better chairman,” Doyle said. “There’s lots of members of Congress that think they’re going to be better than other chairman. That’s certainly not a basis for challenging the chairmanship under Mr. Dingell.”

Both Stupak and Doyle urged Waxman to withdraw his name from the race. And they dismissed suggestions they have heard from Waxman’s supporters that Dingell has slow-walked global warming legislation and would be an obstacle for the issue next year with the incoming Obama administration and larger Democratic majorities on Capitol Hill.

“This idea that somehow that Mr. Dingell isn’t committed to moving aggressively on climate change is not based in any reality,” Doyle said. “That’s just a bogus claim that’s out there. And nobody who’s been a member of this committee can make that claim with a straight face.”

Who’s got the votes?

Members of the powerful House Steering and Policy Committee — which includes senior Democratic lawmakers, committee leaders, regional representatives and party leaders who have a larger number of votes than other members — will meet during the lame-duck session Nov. 17-21 to make a recommendation between Waxman and Dingell.

If Dingell loses there, Stupak said that Dingell would seek a secret-ballot vote before the entire House Democratic Caucus that will be seated for the 111th Congress.

On and off Capitol Hill yesterday, Waxman and Dingell’s supporters worked the phones to shore up support in advance of any Democratic vote. Dingell sent a letter to all House Democrats asking for support for another term as chairman and listing his committee’s accomplishments, which include 91 bills passed by the House and 27 laws signed by President Bush.

“I am proud to say that the committee on Energy and Commerce has proven repeatedly that it is capable of moving, and seeing signed into law, enormously complex and difficult legislation,” Dingell wrote.

Waxman, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent his own letter to Democrats earlier in the week but did not make it public. In a prepared statement released Wednesday, Waxman said he had given “long thought” before making his move against Dingell, adding, “Enacting comprehensive energy, climate and health care reform will not be easy. But my record shows that I have the skill and ability to build consensus and deliver legislation that improves the lives of all Americans.”

Advocates for both sides are saying they have the votes to win the chairmanship.

Jerry Dodson, a former Waxman aide, said that it is not like Waxman to make such a move if he does not have support from within the party caucus. “He usually doesn’t take these things on if he doesn’t have the votes,” said Dodson, a San Francisco attorney who worked for Waxman from 1978 to 1988 when the lawmaker chaired the House Environment and Public Health Subcommittee.

Waxman’s supporters are pointing to a letter about global warming “principles” that the California Democrat organized with Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) last month. The document, signed by 152 House Democrats, shows support for more aggressive cuts in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions compared with a draft plan from Dingell and Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.)

Among California Democrats, Waxman has some of his strongest support. For example, House Education Chairman George Miller — the chairman of the Natural Resources Committee in the early 1990s — said in a brief interview that he backs Waxman.

But Stupak and Doyle countered that Waxman hasn’t sewn up anything. “Members sign letters all the time,” Stupak said. “Please do this. Please do that. I’ve never seen a letter saying replace Mr. Dingell except Mr. Waxman’s.”

The two Dingell supporters declined to specify how many Democratic votes they have, though they did pledge to release a list of whip members by early next week. Dingell spokesman Jodi Seth said the chairman has support from members of the moderate Blue Dog coalition, New Democratic Coalition, Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, Democratic leadership and incoming freshmen.


House Democratic leaders yesterday did everything they could to stay out of the public spotlight on the contentious issue. Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Pelosi, said the speaker will not take a position on the dispute and instead will leave it to the party caucus to settle.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) sidestepped a question about how the chairmanship battle will play out and who he is supporting.

“I don’t know,” Hoyer said. “Both of them are chairmen of major committees. I think they’re both doing a good job on the committees they’re chairing, and both are very useful for affecting our agenda, one of which is going to be oversight and reform and one of which is going to be health care. They’re both going to be very involved.”

In private, however, there is some question as to whether Pelosi or the incoming Obama administration has had anything to do with encouraging Waxman’s move. “My guess is Waxman has [Pelosi’s] support as well,” Dodson said. “My guess is Congressman Waxman is probably being urged to do this. It’s kind of passing the baton on in a way.”

Pelosi has famously feuded with Dingell over global warming issues, one such sticking point being the 2007 creation of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. She also backed Dingell’s Democratic primary opponent in 2002.

As for Obama, Dingell endorsed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) during the Democratic primaries. He also criticized Obama in May 2007 after a campaign visit to Detroit that included a speech chiding the auto industry.

Adding to the intrigue, Obama on Wednesday named Waxman’s longtime chief of staff, Phil Schiliro, to serve as director of congressional relations during his transition to the White House.

But Stupak recalled during the press conference how Obama specifically sought out Dingell earlier this summer when the Democratic presidential candidate made an appearance on the House floor. And he also recalled conversations with Obama campaign officials in his Michigan district where they have responded with shoulder shrugs to the Dingell-Waxman dispute.

“I talked to them point blank about this. They said, ‘We don’t know anything about this. The only thing we’re hearing about is Rahm Emanuel,'” Stupak said, referring the Illinois Democratic congressman who yesterday accepted Obama’s offer to be White House chief of staff. “They’ve never heard anything about it. They’ve never heard Senator Obama express any displeasure with Mr. Dingell or that Mr. Dingell should be replaced.”

For some, the contest between Dingell and Waxman is something best left decided among Democratic lawmakers. Several Obama campaign officials did not respond to requests for comment. Spokespersons at the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense Fund declined comment.

But Dodson spoke up for his former boss, insisting that he would bring a new level of seriousness to the global warming debate. “What you really don’t want is someone in this position who comes up with cynical proposals,” he said. “You want to start from a strong position.”

Industry officials have mostly stayed away from the dispute as well. But R. Bruce Josten, vice president for government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, took issue with the idea of a Waxman-led committee given the Californian’s support for far more aggressive greenhouse emission limits compared with Dingell. “It’s scary, isn’t it?” he said.

If actually trying to prevent catastrophic global warming is “scary” then all I can say is “Boo!”

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8 Responses to Waxman vs. Dingell, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

  1. David B. Benson says:

    Hope Waxman can swing it.

  2. EJS says:

    I’m sure Waxman would take a more aggressive approach with respect to the Big 3, but that’s only 1/3 of carbon emissions. By floating the idea of a carbon tax, and an elimination of the mortgage deduction for McMansions, Dingell has shown he would take a balanced approach to addressing the climate crisis.

  3. Go Waxman – hope that a grassroots move to push him goes viral.

  4. DINGELL?? Balanced? Are you kidding? The guy singlehandedly prevented the an increase in CAFE standards for 30 years!! (Car AVerage Fuel Efficiency).

    Puh-lease. Dingell’s been at it for over 50 years.

    Time to let the younger generation take over.

  5. Dingell should be ashamed of himself. When the history of peak oil and global warming is written, Dingell will look very, very bad.

  6. Joseph says:

    GO WAXMAN!!!

  7. Rick C. says:

    Joe, what can us “little people” do to get Dingell out of the way?

    Seems the Blue Dog Democrats are rallying around Dingell. But if they truly were concerned about the fiscal situation and moving toward a balanced budget, they ought to be incorporating notions of ENVIRONMENTAL DEBT into their calculations. (E.g, “Green GDP”, Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare, etc.)

    (Perhaps the “change we need” is John Dingell … to be appointed by Obama to an Executive branch job where his knowledge and connections might actually be used to move us forward :-)

  8. Adam says:

    Go Waxman! I’m really nervous for this vote. This is huge.