As Democrats scramble to prepare for Republican subpoena power come January, when the GOP takes control of the House, an identity politics jigsaw puzzle is complicating a brewing battle over a key leadership position.
Rep. Edolphus Towns of New York, ousted by his own party from the ranking position on the House oversight committee, is backing Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, citing her seniority for the position.
“I support Carolyn Maloney to become Ranking Member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. She is next in line on the Committee, she has the seniority and competence to serve the Caucus well,” Towns said in a written statement.
The symbolism of the surprise move from Towns, who is black, could partially offset a key advantage of Maloney’s rival, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland — his expected backing of the powerful Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).
Maloney is second in line on the committee and, given the great weight House Democrats place on seniority, should be a shoe-in for the spot. Maloney would also be the first woman to head the panel for Democrats.
But especially since black Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina was recently demoted from his party’s whip position to an ambiguous, “assistant leader” slot, the CBC isn’t likely to back down without a fight, insiders say.
After backing Towns for the slot back when he was zealously defending his record, the CBC is expected now to back Cummings, the third ranking Democrat on the oversight committee.
The contest, then, pits women and seniority against the CBC.
The fight over who will represent Democrats in the top position on the oversight committee is crucial because Democrats fear the committee’s incoming chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa of California, could wreak havoc next year.
That fear stems from Issa’s savvy tenure as ranking Republican on the panel under Democratic rule. Rather than a partisan bomb-thrower, like former oversight Chairman Dan Burton, Issa has shown an independence and willingness to go after Republicans that brings credibility and makes him even more dangerous to Obama.
Democrats have ramped up their attempts to take Issa down a notch. For instance, Media Matters Action Network published a report titled “The REAL Darrell Issa” which sought to dredge up Issa’s youthful indiscretions.
Now Democrats have ousted Towns as the party’s ranking oversight committee member, a key move given the bipartisan view Towns has been timid and unable to stand up to Issa over the past two years.
Democratic congressional sources say both Maloney and Cummings would be good for the spot. Maloney, an effective legislator with an effective staff, is highlighting her record of getting legislation out of the committee and passed on the House floor.
Cummings is popular among his colleagues. “The guy seems smart and like a fighter,” said one top Democratic aide.
However, the source feared that the partisanship required by Cummings were he to take the position would stain his reputation. Cummings is liked on both sides of the aisle.