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House Admin in Limbo as Democrats Await Assignments

The House adjourned Wednesday without a determination by the Democratic leadership on who will serve as the ranking member on the House Administration Committee, leaving it as the only previously existing standing committee without a top Democrat.

Also remaining up in the air was the question of who else will serve on the panel, as two of the three Democratic members will almost certainly vacate their slots. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), who served as ranking member, appears certain to leave the committee, while Rep. Jim Davis (Fla.) has been given a seat on Energy and Commerce, an “A” committee slot that most likely will preclude sitting on other panels.

A spokeswoman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said decisions about the panel that oversees many of the day-to-day functions of the House will be put off until after the chamber reconvenes on Jan. 27.

“No discussions have been made on the Admin Committee, period,” Cindy Jimenez said. “The selection process will resume when Congress returns.”

Pelosi has yet to dole out committee assignments for freshman Democrats or name Members to the new Select Committee on Homeland Security, but House Administration is the only pre-existing panel without a ranking member for the 108th Congress.

The committee is not subject to the normal steering process. Its members, including the chairman and ranking member, are picked by the Speaker and Minority Leader, respectively. Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has reappointed Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) to chair the panel, and the six members on the Republican side will remain the same.

Next to Hoyer, Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) is the longest-serving member of the committee, with five years under his belt, and he has expressed strong interest in being ranking member.

“You can’t have a Capitol for your constituents to visit unless the elevators are working,” Fattah said in an interview Wednesday, adding that he would consider it an honor to be the top Democrat on the panel.

But his once-inevitable ascension now appears to be less of a sure thing. Sources familiar with the process said that Fattah’s seat on the Appropriations Committee could be a stumbling block to an appointment as ranking member, as Pelosi seems intent on giving plum posts and coveted committee slots to as many members of the Caucus as possible.

“No news,” Fattah said on Friday. “These are issues that I think the leader is still working through.” But, he added: “We still feel quite confident, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”

Fattah’s enthusiasm for the post notwithstanding, there have been few requests to serve on the committee, which counts Members of Congress rather than voters as its constituency.

Fattah has embraced the notion of serving the institution as well as his district. “Everything we do shouldn’t be focused on the parochial interests of our constituents,” he said.

But other forces may be at play in Pelosi’s decision-making process.

The Congressional Black Caucus is already upset about the events surrounding the selection of the new Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman. Rep. Robert Matsui (Calif.), who hadn’t sought the position, was picked over Rep. William Jefferson (La.), a CBC member and the only Democrat to actively lobby for the post. The appointment of Fattah, who is black, could go far in appeasing those tensions.

“The DCCC decision could have an impact on this decision,” a Democratic aide acknowledged.

Eyebrows were raised Tuesday after Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas) was selected to be a teller in the election of the Speaker for the 108th Congress. Traditionally, those jobs are given to the chairman and ranking member of the House Administration Committee.

But people familiar with the selection process said not to read too much into the decision. Sources said Rodriguez was asked the morning of the election whether he’d like to be a teller. As chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, he was seeking a place on the Democratic Steering Committee, a spot he was granted.

“Ms. Pelosi wants to do her thing her way,” a second Democratic aide said of the seeming change in tradition. “She wants to set her own path. I don’t know if that was a wink or not.”

“He is going to be on the Steering and Policy Committee,” spokesman Sean Foertsch said.

As for the third Democratic slot on the panel, Davis will most likely leave the panel because of his new assignment.

“It is our understanding that the only committee that Congressman Davis will sit on is Energy and Commerce,” spokeswoman Dianne Pratt-Heavner said Friday.

Meanwhile, the committee is left facing a full plate of oversight and administrative issues for the 108th Congress.

“I do believe that as a committee that oversees the operations, we need to not be delayed,” Ney said of the lack of Democratic members. “It will be a little tricky after a while to make decisions in a vacuum,” adding that if it was put off long enough “it could affect the whole House.”

The committee was supposed to have an organizational meeting last week, but Ney put it off in deference to the Democrats.

“We were going to have an official hearing on perimeter security. We had an informal briefing on perimeter security, but I would hope we could have an official hearing before the State of the Union” on Jan. 28, Ney said.

The committee also has oversight over the Capitol Visitor Center and all officers of the House. Additionally, the committee funding resolutions for all panels except the Appropriations Committee are coming up in March, and budgets will have to be submitted to the panel and ironed out.

“This committee has been bipartisan to serve all the Members,” Ney said. “We would hope the selections are made because it could come into a time when it could become a problem. It could become very difficult for all Members of the House.”

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