House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has put her Caucus on notice that she will strictly enforce a rule limiting Members to sitting on just two committees as part of an effort to give junior lawmakers a better shot at landing more desirable assignments.
The new leader is also asking more senior Members with top committee slots to consider vacating one of their other posts and is looking into a possible rules change to broaden the chances for new Members to obtain plum seats.
Pelosi has already told the 19 Members who currently hold three committee posts to give one up to make room for new Members. And while her office won’t reveal any other names, she has already asked Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) to take a leave from Energy and Commerce for two years as Harman assumes the ranking job on the Intelligence Committee.
Harman, who won the Intelligence post after a deal was struck with Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), agreed to the request but will retain her seniority status on the committee. Bishop, who was in line for the Intelligence seat, was in turn appointed to the Appropriations panel, an exclusive committee.
“We’re asking others to defer on some of their [assignments] and may even try to offer further constraints on some committees to make sure this can be instituted,” said a Democratic leadership staffer.
“People will realize that the general concept of broader distribution should be one of our guideposts,” the aide added.
Pelosi’s effort is a follow-up on her pledge to Members that she would seek to broaden opportunity in the Caucus, sources said. The moves also address the long-standing concerns of some Members who sought more prominent roles for freshmen and a wider distribution of power.
A spokeswoman for Harman, Corey Brown, said her boss hopes other Members will follow her lead and consider leaving one of their posts: “She’s a team player and there are a limited number of committee positions that she believes are all too often hoarded by senior Members. We hope to open up spaces for other Members, but also to set an example that others might follow.”
Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) has been one of the leading advocates for opening opportunities for new Members. In recent years, he unsuccessfully urged the Democratic Steering Committee to provide greater access for freshmen to the exclusive committees.
Snyder indicated Tuesday that he was delighted with Pelosi’s approach, saying he believes it was one of the reasons she was elected leader. He also commended Harman for willingly giving up her Energy and Commerce seat, saying: “If it didn’t violate the gift ban, I’d send Jane a $250 bouquet of flowers.
[IMGCAP(1)] “It’s great to see the efforts [Pelosi] is putting into providing more opportunities,” said Snyder.
Snyder said he believes the Democratic Caucus has tremendous talent at all levels and that leaders should work to tap it. By working to free up more committee positions, Pelosi is doing just that, he said.
“We have to do whatever it takes to give more opportunities to more junior Members, and to draw on the strength of the entire Caucus, not just the senior Members,” he said.
While the rule limiting Members to just two committee positions has long been in existence, waivers have often been granted in the past allowing Members to hold three slots. Those waivers are considered temporary and cover just one Congressional session.
“All 19 [Members] are being asked to give those committees back and they’ll be thrown into the pool,” the Democratic leadership aide said. “We’re enforcing the rule only.
“Most of them understood they had two assignments, so the third one they are getting off of was a temporary one,” the Democratic staffer noted.
Those 19 Members didn’t appear to be objecting to the enforcement of the rule, saying that while they’d like to hold onto the third seat, they never expected a permanent assignment.
Those Members are: Reps. Ron Kind (Wis.), Dennis Moore (Kan.), Rush Holt (N.J.), Baron Hill (Ind.), Tim Holden (Pa.), Silvestre Reyes (Texas), Brad Carson (Okla.), Tom Udall (N.M.), Mark Udall (Colo.), Mike Honda (Calif.), Grace Napolitano (Calif.), Joe Hoeffel (Pa.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Shelley Berkley (Nev.), Susan Davis (Calif.), Mike Ross (Ark.), Brian Baird (Wash.) and Rick Larsen (Wash.), and Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo-Vila (Puerto Rico).
“We relinquished the Small Business Committee to allow for more slots,” said Brad Luna, spokesman for Carson. “We were very willing and volunteered to do that.”
Darin Schroeder, press secretary to Kind, said his boss also easily agreed to give up his Agriculture appointment. He said Kind “knew it was really only a temporary position anyway.”
At the same time, however, those third committee positions are often on the lower end of desirability among Members and have extra openings available. One Democratic aide said that in the past, there was never a quibble about Members wanting waivers for third positions.
“You aren’t talking about committees that are highly sought after or for which there’s a lot of competition,” the staffer said.
Sources said Pelosi isn’t abandoning the concept of waivers altogether but won’t consider them until all assignments have been made. Once each Member (other than those sitting on exclusives) has two positions and if there is space available, Members will have a crack at adding another committee to their lists.
The Steering Committee will meet the week of Jan. 27 to complete the work of doling out posts. The panel has yet to address freshman assignments, nor has it tackled appointments to House Administration or the new Select Committee on Homeland Security.