With the clock ticking on the deadline to organize committees for the 108th Congress, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) named 22 Democrats to the nascent Homeland Security panel Wednesday, nearly completing weeks of doling out committee slots.
In making her selections to the select panel, Pelosi tapped one freshman, Rep. Kendrick Meek (Fla.); four Members from the New York region; two from the D.C. area; three fellow Californians; and two ranking members, Select Intelligence ranking member Jane Harman (Calif.) and Financial Services ranking member Barney Frank (Mass.).
Both Harman and Frank had agreed to relinquish seats on their second panels when they became ranking members of their respective committees earlier this year. Harman took a leave from Energy and Commerce, while Frank stepped off Judiciary.
A leadership aide said Pelosi attempted to give strong diversity — in experience, tenure and regional backgrounds — to the committee. The staffer said there was tremendous interest from Members, and the Minority Leader worked hard to fairly distribute those seats.
“Her idea was to make it as diverse a group as possible, both regionally and in all other ways,” the aide said. “But her first criterion was picking quality people.”
“She wanted the most talented, most experienced and most committed Members she could find,” added the panel’s ranking member, Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas), who was named earlier. “She wanted people who would devote their full energy to the committee.”
Committees are required to hold their first organizational meeting by the end of this week. The Homeland panel was the last to which Members were named.
While Pelosi stressed diversity, one Democratic insider characterized Pelosi’s picks as a “payback bonanza,” as many of the Members picked had unsuccessfully lobbied for placement on other plum committees.
The aide noted Meek had unsuccessfully sought a place on the powerful Appropriations Committee, on which his mother, former Rep. Carrie Meek (D-Fla.), was a member. The staffer also pointed to other examples, such as Reps. Loretta Sanchez (Calif.) and Charlie Gonzalez (Texas), who had both vied for Energy and Commerce, and Bob Etheridge (N.C.), who had sought a seat on Ways and Means.
Another Democratic House aide noted that Pelosi, through sheer circumstance, held tremendous leverage in assigning slots to the committee, saying the panel was like “manna from heaven” to the minority. The same staffer, however, added that Pelosi dropped the ball for failing to give the seats to threatened Members who could use the slots to help secure their re-election bids.
“[Former Minority Leader Richard] Gephardt [Mo.] was lucky to get two or three new good committee slots in the last Congresses,” the aide said. “Pelosi got 23 on a committee that is gold to Members in competitive districts. But I guess she thought appeasing her core supporters was more important.”
But the leadership aide called those charges off base, saying Pelosi did weigh Members’ districts as a factor, though it wasn’t the only consideration. She wanted a cross-section, the aide said.
As for Pelosi using the panel as a payout for the disenfranchised, the aide countered that all Members are vying for key committee posts: “This is not an army of the discontent.”
The aide added that if Pelosi had done that, “that would have been wasting” the Homeland Security panel.
In making assignments to the panel, Pelosi had asked each appointee to give up another committee assignment. The move ensured that no Member on Homeland could have a third committee post.
Members are still working out which committees they will relinquish, according to another leadership aide. But the staffer said some of the new Homeland members may be able to keep a third slot if there are still vacancies on committees.