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Pelosi Downplays Seniority System in Endorsing Anna Eshoo for Committee Assignment

Ranking member rivals Eshoo and Pallone. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Ranking member rivals Eshoo and Pallone. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

On Monday afternoon, and for the third time this year, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi endorsed her close friend and fellow Californian Rep. Anna G. Eshoo for ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee — and said House Democrats should consider seniority “a consideration” but “not a determination” in doling out committee leadership assignments.  

The minority leader’s suggestion that colleagues loosen up on a long-held deference to the seniority system in regards to Eshoo’s bid against the more senior Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey is likely to ruffle feathers across the House Democratic Caucus.  

It might be particularly irksome to members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which sees seniority as a way to protect their own from being passed over for chairman and ranking member slots. In her letter to members, Pelosi appeared to be bracing for such pushback.  

“I have been asked by a number of the freshmen about my views concerning how our Caucus has handled the issue of seniority over the years. My first experience with the seniority issue was when I had the privilege to vote for Ron Dellums to be the first African American to chair the House Armed Services Committee. Chairman Dellums was not the most senior Member when he ascended to the Chairmanship,” she wrote.  

Pelosi continued:

“And now, it is important to note our Caucus has voted in to Chair or Ranking Member positions Members who are not the more senior on their respective committees, including Henry Waxman, Energy and Commerce; Nita Lowey, Appropriations; Adam Smith, Armed Services; Elijah Cummings, Oversight and Government Reform; and Eliot Engel, Foreign Affairs

In each of these elections there was enormous respect for the senior Member, but our colleagues viewed seniority as a consideration not a determination.”

CBC members peeved with Pelosi’s preference of Eshoo over Pallone might also be assuaged by Pelosi’s endorsement of CBC member Corrine Brown of Florida to be the next ranking member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. She is being challenged by the less-senior Tim Walz of Minnesota.  

But Pelosi’s reiterated support for Eshoo comes at a delicate time, just a few days before House Democrats return to Capitol Hill after a bruising election, many of them agitated with the status quo generally and inclined to support either Eshoo or Pallone with a “protest vote”  — for Eshoo in a knock against the seniority system, or for Pallone in a knock to Pelosi’s influence.

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