Democrats Dingell and Waxman in Even-Money Showdown for House Oversight Post

By Al Kamen
Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The intraparty "Clash of the Titans" between veteran Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and his challenger for that position, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), is taking on the trappings of a traditional political battle, complete with letter-writing and petition campaigns.

The Michigan Democratic Party sent an urgent appeal to its statewide e-mail list last week urging people to write a letter or sign a petition to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to support the 82-year-old Dingell's effort to fend off Waxman, the 69-year-old chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

"The attempt to unseat the Chairman is not only an attack on his position but on the working families and citizens he has fought to protect," the state party's appeal said. It added that Dingell had been "the driving force behind groundbreaking progress on everything from environmental protection to health care access to the auto industry."

The petition to Pelosi first took the high road, noting that President-elect Barack Obama relied on a broad coalition for his victory and "we should be uniting, not dividing the House caucus." Then it got a bit stronger. "It is adding insult to injury for you to allow the dean of the Congress . . . to be removed at this crucial time. I appeal to you to stand up against this injustice."

The first test will come tomorrow, when the four-dozen-member House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee meets and votes on a slate of committee chairmen and members to present to the party's full caucus on Thursday.

The committee is generally seen as a tool of the leadership, meaning Pelosi. If it puts Waxman on its list for Thursday's vote, the caucus will see that as putting her imprimatur -- and prestige -- behind the move to unseat Dingell. (Hard to see how Waxman would have mounted the challenge without at least a nod from her, but all things are possible.)

As it stands, the handicappers are having trouble predicting the winner in this one, as the votes and trends seem to conflict. In part that's because the caucus is fractured into multiple, sometimes overlapping policy and political segments: California liberals vs. more conservative Democrats, anti-gun folks vs. pro-gun, strict committee-seniority devotees vs. fans of looser seniority rules, enviros vs. General Motors, and so on.

No Crash, No Coverage

Good news and bad news on the conversion to digital television.

First, the good news: NASCAR's David Gilliland, driving the Federal Communications Commission-sponsored DTV-awareness car to publicize the Feb. 17 deadline for the big switch, did not crash Sunday in Miami in the third and final race of the sponsorship deal. He wrecked in two previous races, first after being bumped into the wall and then, last week, in a multi-car pileup.

Now, the bad news: He didn't crash. Worse yet, he didn't win. This is not good, as FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, theorized to reporters last week, because TV coverage tends to focus on the winning cars and the ones involved in crashes. The rest just seem to whiz by, and it's hard for people to read the sponsorship banners pasted on the sides and front.

Jesse's Girl

It was all fine and friendly yesterday in Chicago as Obama met with Sen. John McCain to do a little post-election making nice and chatting about how they are going to work together going forward and so on.

But it turns out that, even before the election, Joe Biden was doing some of his own reaching out across the aisle, despite his being a liberal.

About 10 days before the elections, the liberal senator and future vice president was campaigning in Raleigh, N.C. He took the time to call Dorothy Helms, the widow of longtime conservative Senate firebrand Jesse Helms, and tell her how much he was thinking about her, and how much he missed his old colleague. Said he couldn't be in Carolina without thinking about Jesse Helms.

Biden said that, if he won, he'd invite Mrs. Helms to Washington to visit the Bidens in their new home.

First-Class Baggage?

So the buzz about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y) being considered for secretary of state turned out to be true. Now the reports are that her husband's prior financial dealings with some unsavory characters overseas -- even some heads of state -- might be a problem. And then there are those donors to his continuing legacy project, the Clinton Library in Little Rock.

Even more intriguing is how they can work out, going forward, what the law firms call a Chinese Wall of sorts between his overseas activities for the Clinton Global Initiative and her potential job duties. Truly uncharted territory here.

Might be time to bring in Al Gore to fashion a "lock [pause] box."

Let's Talk About Sex

Women's groups are cheering the prospect that Hillary Clinton could be appointed secretary of state, but the number of guys in suits is making them a bit nervous about how many women Obama will appoint to senior administration jobs.

"It is a continuing vigil until the decisions are made," said Emily's List founder and president Ellen R. Malcolm. "It's a nervous-making time, because you look at the list of people that are in the press and it's obviously a lot of men and a couple of women. . . . The appointments really are the first big signal that the new president is going to pay attention to women in a serious way."

The pool of high-profile women for top jobs is large, affording Obama ample opportunities. In addition to Clinton, there's Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano for either attorney general or head of the Department of Homeland Security. "Those two have tremendous depth of experience . . . and really have demonstrated that they know how to get things done," Malcolm said. Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is also talked about for a Cabinet post.

Obama, who has promised to reach across party lines and bring some Republicans into his administration, could turn to Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) for homeland security secretary. "She's certainly a homeland security expert -- far more than the former governor of Pennsylvania ever was," said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, referring to the first DHS chief, Tom Ridge. "She actually does know the area."

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin is in the mix to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and for secretary of commerce, Obama could consider Pepsi chief executive Indra Nooyi or Western Union chief executive Christina Gold.

Many Are Called . . .

The Obama transition teams have been showing up at various agencies, employees there report, including Interior, Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency. These are the teams that review personnel, policy, organizational issues and the like to prepare reports for the incoming administration. We're told they have lists of career folks they want to interview. Likely going to get an earful.

With Philip Rucker

© 2008 The Washington Post Company