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.