It was just about two years ago that the televising of impeachment proceedings of President Nixon made instant celebrities of the members of the House Judiciary Committee and its chairman, Rep. Peter W. Rodino: D-N.J.).
But in this fast-paced world, fame is fickle, and on Tuesday Chairman Rodino stood up in the Democratic Caucus to complain that Democrats were avoiding assignment to his committee, leaving him with five vacant Democratic seats. Not only would that leave him shorthanded, Rodino said, but it would give the Republicans more than the two Democrats to 1 Republican ratio they are supposed to have.
The purpose of the caucus was to elect members to standing committees and elect committee chairmen and that was done without taking care of Rodino's problem.
Rodino was sort of promised relief by House Speaker Thomas O. (Tip) O'Neill, who told Rodino to go ahead and organize his committee and he'd see what he could do about filling the five vacancles.
But that did not satisfy Rodino or his supporters.
Rodino suggested that it was the leadership trying to accommodate newer members' desire for certain committee assignments that left him with 18 Democrats and 11 Republicans.
Rep. George Danielson (D-Calif.), a senior Judiciary Committee member, berated the newer members.
"The past two years we've gotten members hearalded as young people who want to turn the country around," Danielson said. Yet, he said only two freshmen applied to be on the committee in 1974 and two freshmen applied this year. He prodded them to come and take up the "challenge" of Judiciary Committee work.
"How would you like to work on busing . . . and abortion . . . and gun control . . . and school prayers," he asked, to loud cheers.
Rodino suggested that if they relaxed the rule preventing House Democrats from serving on more than one major committee be could fill his quoto with senior members.
But Rep. Phillip Burton (D-Calif.) said that would destroy changes Democrats worked 10 years to get. He suggested O'Neil simply tell the Republicans they couldn't have 11 members on the committee to keep the 2-to-1 plus on ratio intact.
Rodino blanched and said the idea was to get more members on the committee, not fewer.
O'Neil snapped that he would not go back on his word to give the Republicans 11 members, which he had given before he knew of the problem.