The race is officially on to determine who will take on Darrell Issa next year as top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. But this contest is in a lot of ways more complicated than the other post-election power struggles we’ve seen in the last couple weeks. And unlike, say, the House Democratic Whip struggle, which centered on an inside-baseball leadership position, the stakes here are very public and very high.
The two principle combatants are the current Oversight Committee chair, Edolphus Towns, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) — one of the committee’s senior members.
According to Democratic aides who agreed to speak off the record to discuss the contest candidly, there’s no easy answer here.
In most cases, as the current member —and with the backing of the Congressional Black Caucus — Towns would be an uncontested shoo-in. But according to aides, there’s a great deal of concern among House Dem leaders and the White House that he simply doesn’t have the bulldog-like nature to be an effective counterpoint to the aggressive Issa.
Kucinich isn’t lacking for that fight — just read his letter announcing his candidacy — but a lot of members, not to mention the White House, are wary of Kucinich becoming ranking member. They want an on-the-reservation fighter, like Henry Waxman was in that position.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
That leaves a bit of a vacuum underneath Towns, and no obvious choice to fill it.
One person who appeals to a lot of members is Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), and he told the Huffington Post yesterday that he’d be happy to step in if Towns stepped aside. “I’d go for it in a second,” he said.
But that’s if Towns agreed to vacate his position. Seniority is a very big deal in the CBC, and they wouldn’t take kindly to Cummings issuing a direct challenge to Towns.
We’ll keep you updated on this as it develops.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.