The Heat Is Online

Waxman Wins House Energy Committee Chairmanship

Longtime Head of House Energy Panel Is Ousted


The New York Times,  Nov. 20, 2008


WASHINGTON -- Representative Henry A. Waxman of California ousted Representative John D. Dingell of Michigan from his post as chairman of the influential Committee on Energy and Commerce on Thursday, giving President-elect Barack Obama an advantage in his plans to promote efforts to combat global warming.


By a vote of 137 to 122, House Democrats ended Mr. Dingell's nearly 28-year reign as his party's top member on the committee. Besides installing a committed environmentalist as head of the energy committee, the outcome also removes one of the auto industry's best friends from a key leadership post.


The vote on Thursday morning, and its closeness, were foreshadowed on Wednesday, when the Democrats' Steering and Policy Committee voted 25 to 22 in favor of Mr. Waxman's challenge to Mr. Dingell, the longest-serving current member of the House and one of its most powerful.


Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has often clashed with Mr. Dingell, particularly on environmental matters, leads the steering committee, which includes the entire House leadership. Ms. Pelosi backed a candidate who opposed Mr. Dingell in a Democratic primary in 2002, but she has remained officially neutral in the Dingell-Waxman brawl.


The steering committee vote was conducted in secret.


The chairmanship of the Committee on Energy and Commerce is a key post, since the committee will handle legislation on climate change, energy and health care that President-elect Obama is hoping to move through the new Congress.


Mr. Waxman, who has been the chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was backed by many environmentalists for his stands on clean air and global warming, and he has a long record of leadership on health care issues.


Mr. Dingell, a champion of the American auto industry, has also shepherded numerous environmental and health care bills through Congress in his more than 50 years of service. He has sponsored universal health care legislation in every session of Congress since he was first elected in 1955.


Both men are considered hard-driving chairmen who would vigorously pursue energy and health care bills. Mr. Waxman is generally regarded as more liberal than Mr. Dingell, and has sponsored tougher global warming legislation. Mr. Dingell's backers argued, unsuccessfully, that he was more likely to knit together a broad coalition of labor, industry and environmentalists in fashioning a climate change bill.


Mr. Waxman, 69, ran a low-key campaign for the post, in part because his challenge upsets the seniority system in the House and in part because Mr. Dingell, at 82, has had a number of health problems, including recent knee-replacement surgery.


Mr. Waxman said through a spokesman on Wednesday that he was a better leader to push Mr. Obama's agenda through Congress.


"I am running for the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee because we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to advance health care, achieve energy independence and tackle climate change," he said in a statement. "These are difficult and contentious issues, and I believe I can provide effective leadership so that Congress and the new administration working together can deliver results for the American people."


Meanwhile, House Republicans picked their leadership team Wednesday, keeping Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio at their helm, favoring him over Representative Dan Lungren of California, who mounted a last-minute challenge. Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, who is considered a rising star in the party, will be the No. 2 Republican, and Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, a leader of the conservative bloc, will take over at No. 3. Mr. Cantor and Mr. Pence were not opposed.


In his remarks to the Republicans, Mr. Boehner said two straight elections with significant losses had provided Republicans with an opportunity to get themselves back on track if they come up with innovative approaches, promote reform and strike the right tone in expressing their opposition to a government controlled by Democrats.


"In recent years Americans lost faith in us, stopped believing we are what we claim to be," Mr. Boehner told his colleagues. "There are various views on why. Some blame President Bush. Others blame Congressional Republicans and our own actions during our 12 years in the majority. While there are many views on why Americans lost their faith, we're unanimous on one thing: it's time to win it back."


The House Republican caucus has so far balked at a chance to meet with Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the former House Democratic strategist who has been named the new White House chief of staff. Mr. Emanuel, who has been reaching out to Congressional Republicans since his selection as chief of staff, is set to meet on Thursday with some Senate Republican leaders and individually with some House Republicans.