Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Waxman takes over Energy and Commerce

In a 137-122 secret vote, the Democratic Caucus followed the recommendation of their steering committee to replace John Dingell with Henry Waxman as chairman of the influential House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Dingell, who represents Michigan’s 15th district and is a staunch ally of Detroit’s automobile manufacturers as well as sportsmen’s groups and pro-gun organizations, held the endorsement of many Blue Dog Democrats to keep the chair.  Waxman, as part of a more progressive wing of the Democratic party long frustrated by environmental obstructionism in both parties, is expected to use the broad jurisdiction of the committee to pursue more aggressive oversight and reform in a variety of areas in a manner more in line with the agenda of President-elect Barack Obama.

Dingell has been either Chairman or Ranking Member of the committee since 1981.  As chairmanships are usually determined by seniority, Waxman’s coup over a man who will become the longest serving Representative in the history of the House this February is quite uncommon.

Senior Democrats were stunned by the Waxman victory, which seemingly dealt a blow to the party’s long-held principle of seniority. “It’s just been buried,” Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said of seniority.

Dingell has in the past consistently opposed efforts to tighten environmental controls affecting Detroit, especially fuel economy and emissions standards.  This attitude has earned him the ire of more liberal Democrats including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who, although remaining officially neutral during Waxman’s campaign to win the chair, clearly favored her fellow Californian for the post.

He has often clashed publicly with Pelosi, who made an end-run around Dingell last year by creating a temporary committee chaired by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), a close Pelosi ally, to oversee global warming issues.

Despite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s public neutrality in the race, Rangel accused her of tacitly supporting Waxman because her closest allies in the House ran his campaign and she did not intervene to stop Waxman, a home-state colleague, from running a campaign that exposed ideological fissures among Democrats.

“I assume that not playing a role is playing a role,” Rangel said.

The committee is likely to play a role immediately, helping to negotiate the terms and concessions of the big 3 bailout.  Dingell is married to the executive director for public affairs at General Motors and would have very probably called for a no-strings-attached package, while Waxman is likely to negotiate far tougher terms and hold management accountable for their failures.

Energy and Commerce is extremely influential on matters that affect the US economy, and so will play a more even important role than usual in the 111th Congress.  It’s encouraging for it to have a progressive leader who will fully support Obama’s legislative goals to enact real change for our country.


  1. about Obama’s team on CNN just now (I always forget the guy’s name, big white-haired guy I tend to like).  He said [sic]”ironically, many on the left may want people like me to be disappointed, but I like the experienced team Obama is putting together”.

  2. as a resident of Michigan. I can console myself with the thought that this is good for the country as a whole. Dingell was too obstructionist when it came to C.A.F.E. standards and then environment.

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