With the death of Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is looking to quickly name a new House Oversight and Reform Committee chair in order to continue the House's work on the Trump impeachment inquiry, but that still means some long-time, powerful Democrats are going to be passed over for arguably the strongest committee gavel in the House.
In any other year, the race to lead the House Oversight and Reform Committee would be a full-out caucus brawl. But amid the Democrats’ impeachment push, it could end up being a coronation.
Passed over for the top Oversight post nearly a decade ago, New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney could soon become the panel’s permanent chairwoman and a leading face of Democrats’ impeachment probe.
Maloney, the panel’s most senior Democrat, was tapped last week as interim head after the unexpected death of the beloved chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). A handful of other Democrats both on and off the committee have been floated as potential replacements since then, including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Reps. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Jackie Speier (D-Calif.).
But several House Democrats are quietly signaling they’re hoping to avoid a messy public grab for the chairmanship that would divert attention away from their impeachment probe and spotlight long-festering fissures within the caucus. And that could put Maloney in prime position to assume the gavel, according to lawmakers and aides.
“Obviously, no one is going to be able to fill the shoes of Elijah Cummings,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who is in his second term on the panel, said Monday, without expressing support for a specific member. “I think what’s important in the position is that they’re also going to be able to work closely with [House Intelligence Committee Chairman] Adam Schiff and with the speaker.”
Democrats must hold an election for the chairmanship within 30 days of the vacancy, according to the caucus rules. But no public announcements on timing are expected until after Cummings’ funeral services at the end of this week.
The opening on the Oversight panel puts Democrats in a difficult position: multiple lawmakers and aides acknowledge that the committee lacks a deep bench of battle-hardened lawmakers ready to take on Trump.
But most also realize that a caucus-wide contest could expose ugly divisions across generational and racial lines — drowning out the Democratic Party’s message on impeachment in what could be the final weeks of their inquiry.
Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus have privately said they are willing to accept Maloney, even if it means losing one of their five chairmanships. But if anyone else wins the post — jumping over two of their own members — “all hell’s gonna break loose,” one aide said.
We'll see. Pelosi's pretty shrewd and Maloney is already interim chair, and she thought she had the ranking member position sewn up nine years ago with Charlie Rangel's backing, but the CBC indeed backed Cummings and he won the post. If Pelosi dumps her, it's going to get nasty.
She won't, though. Too smart. Maloney will be fine.