Are Democrats stuck with Towns as ranking member of House oversight?
While the battle for Democratic whip rages between Reps. Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn, another fight is quietly brewing over who will serve as foil to top GOP oversight official Rep. Darrell Issa of California in the 112th Congress.
The Obama White House is said to want the oversight committee’s current chairman, Rep. Edolphus Towns, out — Towns is seen as a liability to Obama with Issa set to achieve subpoena power come January when Republicans take over the House.
The problem Democrats face, two well-placed sources tell The Daily Caller, is that replacing Towns with Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the second most senior Democrat on the panel, is considered politically unpalatable.
Particularly with Hoyer appearing to have the edge on Clyburn in the whip race, replacing a second African-American in leadership with a white member of Congress is not feasible given the political dynamics of the Democratic caucus.
Instead, top Democrats sought to bypass Maloney and install Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, an African American, who is third in seniority.
Maloney, who values her work on the committee highly, said no. The nine-term New Yorker is also described as sensitive to the importance of seniority.
Democrats had entertained other solutions, but they appear dead at the moment, leaving them stuck with Towns.
“Congresswoman Maloney supports Chairman Towns,” said Jon Houston, Maloney’s press secretary.
Meanwhile, Towns is making clear he won’t go down without a fight, publicly seeking to burnish a pugnacious image Democratic sources say is at odds with his tenure as Oversight chairman during the last two years.
Towns is vowing to hit Issa with “a little Bed-Stuy toughness,” his press secretary says, referring to Brooklyn, New York, which he represents.
In a Nov. 12 Dear Colleague letter to fellow Democrats, Towns said, “Any attempt to use this committee as a political weapon to tear down this administration is intolerable and I will use every tool at my disposal to ensure this does not occur.”
Towns’s proclamations are doing little to assuage a bipartisan view Issa has run roughshod over Towns as ranking member in the last two years.
For instance, Kevin Powell, an African-American Democrat and Towns’s primary opponent in the last two election cycles, said, “I would rather see Ms. Maloney in that position than Towns, because we know she’ll actually show up for work.”
Meanwhile, Towns has never had a good relationship with President Obama, partly because he backed Hillary Clinton in the 2008 presidential primary.
The White House did not reply to a request for comment.
A wild card in the brewing skirmish is Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the far-left Democrat from Ohio.
Kucinich is seen by Republicans as a potentially tough adversary of Issa, but also too “crazy” — too far to the Left to really match up with Issa. His press secretary denied knowledge of the congressman’s interest in the position.
Kucinich has recently taken several public shots at Issa.