Rep. Ed Towns (D-NY) surprised everybody Tuesday afternoon when he announced that he’d dropped out of the race to be ranking member on the House Oversight Committee next year.
The move did not reflect his personal preferences though. On Tuesday, according to two sources close to Towns, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Towns and told him, essentially, that she could not support his candidacy.
Towns had all but locked down the position last month. But that was over the wishes of congressional leadership and the White House, both of whom want the ranking member to be a bulldog, who can stand toe to toe with incoming chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).
Today, the House Democratic Steering Committee recommended Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) for the ranking member spot, leapfrogging Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), the senior Democrat on the committee. Both Cummings and Maloney have been whipping support from caucus members, who will get to make the final call, Cummings more quietly than Maloney. Cummings has earned broad respect from the caucus for his performance on the committee, and, according to sources, has been Pelosi’s favorite from the start.
Pelosi’s office declined to comment. Towns’ staff and the White House did not return requests for comment in time for publication.
Aides stressed that Pelosi’s decision did not reflect a personal objection to Towns, but that leadership “wants to make sure that ranking members are on their top game, aggressive with the chairmen.”
Two separate sources downplayed the idea that Pelosi’s power play was unexpected, or created hard feelings. But in a terse letter to Pelosi yesterday, Towns didn’t conceal his disappointment.
“I am reclaiming my seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee with full seniority and all rights and privileges, including the grandfather clause which allows me to have a seat on both the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. I have held a seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee since 1989,” he wrote. “I would like to have this done expeditiously before the close of the 111th Congress.”
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.