Rank Would Guide Pelosi As She Chose Chairmen

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 21, 2006

If Democrats win control in November, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has decided to award committee chairmanships based almost entirely on seniority, ensuring that the House would feature far more minority faces, and some liberal firebrands, in key posts.

But, mindful of the growing power of an expanding band of Democratic moderates and conservatives, Pelosi has also vowed that she would keep her chairmen on a tight leash, according to leadership aides and current and former Democratic lawmakers. She has assured conservative Democrats that she would personally temper the legislative impulses of her most liberal chairmen while keeping close tabs on the investigations that could dominate the final two years of the Bush presidency.

House Democratic leaders and their would-be chairmen are careful to say in public that they are focused only on the Nov. 7 elections and have not begun to plan for a possible takeover. But privately, Pelosi has had several conversations with the senior Democrats on the House's most powerful committees, as well as with conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats, who have sought assurances that they will have a voice after the polls close.

"We've inched our way back toward the majority by replacing Republicans with conservative-to-moderate Democrats, and you're going to see a lot more of that November 7," said Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), one of the leaders of the Blue Dog coalition. "Do I believe Blue Dogs will have a greater voice in the Democratic leadership? You betcha."

The Blue Dogs could hold the balance of power in a Democratic House. With 37 members, the group already has clout; 16 Democratic candidates have the Blue Dogs' endorsement, and a dozen of them could win. That would give them numbers surpassing the Congressional Black Caucus's 43 members.

Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.), a Blue Dog co-chairman, promised that the group would be "a moderating influence on any excesses that might be brought forth by other wings of the party."

"That's not a threat," he said. "That's just the facts of life."

For Republicans in this campaign season, however, the face of the Democratic Party is not the Blue Dog wing but what Cardoza called those "other wings." Committee chairmanships would appear to be an unlikely campaign issue, but Republicans are using it with gusto, especially to rally dispirited conservatives to the polls.

Republicans have attacked Rep. Charles B. Rangel (N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, as a tax hiker. The Republican National Committee called Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the would-be chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee, "a liberal partisan" who "would launch criminal inquiries into the Bush administration."

In Topeka, Kan., last week, Vice President Cheney singled out three of the most liberal Democrats in the House as foils -- Reps. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), the would-be Judiciary Committee chairman; Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), who is in line to take over the Government Reform Committee; and Barney Frank (Mass.), the senior Democrat on the Financial Services Committee.

"In all the decisions that will come in the next two years, it's going to matter a great deal which party has the majority on the floor and the gavel in committee," Cheney said.

In a debate between six-term Rep. John N. Hostettler (R-Ind.) and his challenger, Sheriff Brad Ellsworth (D), Hostettler warned that if Democrats take over, "Charlie Rangel will be the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee."

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