Dingell’s fatal blunder — refusal to compromise

The NY Times has the background story on just how Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) beat John Dingell (D-MI) for chairmanship of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. The turning point was Dingell’s rejection of a truce that Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the No. 2 Democrat in the House, was trying to broker:

Two days after Mr. Waxman announced his challenge this month, Mr. Hoyer asked if he would be willing to wait two years, to allow Mr. Dingell, the longest-serving House Democrat, a graceful exit and to preserve the Congressional seniority system. Mr. Waxman said no.

Mr. Hoyer, of Maryland, then asked Mr. Dingell, of Michigan, if he would accept the deal: two years and out. Emphatically, no, Mr. Dingell said. If Mr. Waxman, of California, the darling of environmentalists and the liberal wing of the party, wanted the Energy and Commerce crown, he was going to have to take it by parliamentary force.

And that is precisely what he did on Thursday morning, by a vote of 137 to 122, with the decisive votes coming from the large California delegation and the newest members of the Democratic Caucus.

Dingell, of course, refused to compromise for decades on tougher fuel economy standards that might have saved his long-coddled auto industry. And as the article makes clear, failure to compromise was fatal here, too:

“One member who voted against him told me if Dingell had said, ‘Give me two years, and I will happily hand the gavel to Henry Waxman,’ he probably would have won,” said Representative Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, one of the Rust Belt Democrats who helped round up votes for Mr. Dingell and who spoke for him at Thursday’s caucus meeting.

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

Certainly all of us who care about clean energy, the automobile industry, and global warming can be thankful Dingell didn’t compromise this last time too.

Another fascinating tidbit from the story, too:

The Obama transition office also announced this week that Philip Schiliro, Mr. Waxman’s chief of staff, would be the White House director of Congressional relations. “That’s a direct line to the White House,” said an aide to one of Mr. Waxman’s supporters. “Don’t underestimate that.”

Oh, and money always talks in DC:

Mr. Doyle said many of the new members had received direct campaign contributions from Mr. Waxman, who had obviously been contemplating a challenge to Mr. Dingell for many months before he went public the day after the November elections.

“You bumped into a lot of freshmen who said Mr. Waxman was very good to them,” Mr. Doyle said. “The freshman and sophomore class didn’t know John or had never served with him.”

Planning, as they say, is everything.

9 Responses to Dingell’s fatal blunder — refusal to compromise

  1. Russ says:

    Two days after Mr. Waxman announced his challenge this month, Mr. Hoyer asked if he would be willing to wait two years, to allow Mr. Dingell, the longest-serving House Democrat, a graceful exit and to preserve the Congressional seniority system. Mr. Waxman said no.

    This really grinded my gears. The result is a good start, but it shows what we’re still up against. “Wait two years” – time-servers indeed.

    In Hoyer’s world, everything is just a big joke, and the only thing that matters is the stupid political game.

    Waxman said No. I hope that No wasn’t just out of personal ambition; I hope it’s also because he’s fully aware that we have a real Situation here, and we no longer have the luxury of stupid frills like “graceful exits” and the “seniority system”.

    In his defense Dingell and his supporters could only summon pointless and irrelevant nostalgia. For example John Lewis said in effect, because Dingell helped get the Civil Rights Act and Medicare passed back in the 60s, he should have a welfare chairmanship, sacred in perpetuity.

    Even if you believed Dingell’s career had been mostly constructive when he wasn’t carrying water for Detroit, still he could appeal only to the past, thereby implicitly conceding he has nothing to offer the present or future, except obstructions.

    Waxman’s been generally good so far; now hopefully he can really get to work.

  2. David B. Benson says:

    Glad DIngall fell on his …

  3. Ray says:

    I am an ultra conservative, fiscally that is. And even I applaud this. Dingell and his Kabbul including the CEO’s of the Big 3 and the Union Officials should be imprisoned for what they have done to the American public. Good for Waxman.

    Great post!

  4. PurpleOzone says:

    Don’t underestimate some of the people behind Waxman. Dingell has been an impediment to dealing with climate change. Obama says this is what he most wants to work on (and I expect his job creation/economic program will include a substantial boost to ‘green’ jobs).

    Also, Dingell has been weird at times — why go after David Baltimore? (later awarded a Nobel Prize in biology). I was surprised he was still in Congress. Not the brightest bulb there.

  5. alex says:

    Joe, Petty politics and playing “green credentials” game is not going to change anything. You need to get back to the really big issues of how the US is going to lead the world down a contract and convergence road to a low carbon future. This is all about real politics at a global level.

  6. alex says:

    Here are the latest official figures on CO2 – it’s not good:

    Kyoto countries emissions rose between 2000 and 2006. If you include the US and China the picture is far worse.

    Stop worrying about where you get your wine from or the US (ex) car industry’s emission standards. These factors are not going to make an iota of difference. Get Obama over to Poznan pronto.

  7. Jim O'Rourke says:

    Ah, Dirty Dingell hoist on his own petard – how satisfying and appropriate.

  8. crf says:

    This is good for the Democratic party, and for Dingell as well.

    The task of reducing carbon dioxide and of advancing new energy sources shows the necessity of new laws, policies and relationships with automakers, and with industry in general. A person who has been intimately involved with the current course of industrial policy may find it personally and politically difficult to engage in very thorough criticism and reform of those same policies.

    Dingell is needed in this process, but not as a leader needing to move forward quickly in a new direction. He’d be more effective as a necessary critic.

  9. Rick C says:

    Dingell can serve best by getting the hell out of the way of progress which he has successfully blocked for so long, or is it so long, as in, so long Dingell.