By Nick Juliano
With the first two publicly declared contenders for Rep. Henry Waxman’s House Energy and Commerce post primarily focused on the “and commerce” pieces of the committee’s jurisdiction, the California Democrat’s successor as the House’s No. 1 climate hawk may have to find another perch from which to continue his legacy.
In many ways, achieving the seniority Waxman enjoys as the committee’s ranking member is not a prerequisite for continuing the legacy he has developed as a champion of policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and associated air pollution.
Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the third- and fifth-most senior Democrats on the committee, formally launched their bids yesterday to become the committee’s next ranking member — or its chairman, in the unlikely event that Democrats win the House in November (Greenwire, Feb. 3).
Both have solid ratings from the League of Conservation Voters, which tracks legislation addressing energy, the environment and climate change; Pallone has voted for LCV’s position 97 percent of the time over his 25-year congressional career, with Eshoo backing the league 96 percent of the time during her 11 terms. But neither has made those issues a main focal point. Eshoo, who represents Silicon Valley, is the top Democrat on the Communications and Technology Subcommittee. Pallone is the ranking member of the Health Subcommittee.
Climate change and clean air policies are likely to remain a focus of Energy and Commerce Democrats, even if it is not the No. 1 priority of whoever leads them. The full Democratic caucus will eventually select Waxman’s successor as the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, probably late this year.
“There isn’t one person that does everything, so that issue cannot and will not be left behind,” Eshoo told reporters yesterday. “For one major reason, it’s, I think, the greatest challenge that not only our country faces but the world community.”
Even under Waxman — who last year lost his chief climate partner in the House with the ascension Ed Markey (D-Mass.) to the Senate — support for aggressive climate action flowed from the top of the party, and that is expected to still be the case.
“It’s always had the very solid support of [Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.], and I think she kind of sets the tone on that issue,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) told E&E Daily. “So whoever it is, that’s part of the portfolio, they have to be strong on that.”
With Republicans expected to retain the House majority, the legislative tracks to which committee leaders have access would only lead to a dead end, as far as Waxman and his successors are concerned. That opens the field to a wider variety of House Democrats who could claim Waxman’s mantle, and it means that whoever hopes to succeed him as a leader of the climate movement will need to be as skilled in rhetorical combat as he or she is in the legislative process — if not more so.
“I think the challenge is that it will be next to impossible to replace Henry Waxman because of his long congressional and substantive knowledge, institutional know how, political savvy and a staff with these same traits,” said Daniel Weiss, director of climate strategy at the liberal Center for American Progress. “It’s going to be nearly impossible to find that in any other single member.”
Weiss noted that Waxman’s role as a leader on clean air issues stretches back to the early years of his career, when, for example, he was a key player in the 1977 battle to add tailpipe emissions standards to the Clean Air Act, a fight in which he took on the powerful auto industry and its backers in Congress. He continued to be a champion for such initiatives over the decades, proving a valuable guide to younger members even as his presence meant they did not have to spend as much time in the trenches.
“Waxman, from his second term on, had been a victor in hand-to-hand congressional combat in a way that few of these other members have because Henry Waxman has been there,” Weiss added.
Democrats will not formally vote on who will be their top climate champion — as they will on who to put in the top committee spot — so the contest for Waxman’s climate legacy will be a more informal one without a single winner.
“I don’t see one individual carrying the ball forward like Waxman did,” said Michael Shank, a former House aide who is now with the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobbying organization.
Outside of the formal committees, a Waxman successor could be found among the members of another bloc, such as the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition or the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Shank suggested.
Both groups feature among their members some Democrats whose names have been floated recently as possible Waxman successors (E&E Daily, Jan. 31).
The Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition’s members include Reps. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Donna Edwards (D-Md.) and Lois Capps (D-Calif.). Among the Congressional Progressive Caucus members seen as potential Waxman successors are Grijalva, its co-chairman, and Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Huffman and Edwards.
Pallone is a member of the progressive caucus but not the sustainable energy group; Eshoo is in neither.
Will other candidates emerge?
A wild card in the race remains Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the longest-serving member of the committee, from whom Waxman wrested control in 2008. Dingell, a former Energy and Commerce chairman who is the longest-serving House member in history, has not ruled out another run for the top spot. He will be 88 years old at the beginning of the 114th Congress.
Another potential contender is Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), fourth in seniority among committee Democrats and the ranking member of the Energy and Power Subcommittee. Rush, who has had health problems in recent years, is on a leave of absence from Congress to tend to his wife’s health, and that remains his primary focus, a spokeswoman said yesterday when asked whether he is interested in Waxman’s post.
Regardless of whether anyone else decides to enter the fray, the race between Eshoo and Pallone promises to be a hard-fought campaign. Though Pallone outranks her in seniority, Eshoo is a close ally of Pelosi and has billed Energy and Commerce as the “committee of the future” that dovetails with the experience she developed representing tech-savvy Silicon Valley.
Eshoo told Pelosi about her decision during halftime of Sunday’s Super Bowl, and “she was very excited for me,” she told reporters yesterday evening. Eshoo said she also told her “good friend” Pallone about the decision but had not yet spoken to Dingell or Rush.
Pallone, who ran unsuccessfully in a special Senate primary last year, has his own advantages in the race, including a tenure as House Democratic Policy Committee’s communications chairman. And he has had an active leadership political action committee, Shore PAC, which since 2006 has distributed more than $170,000 in contributions to his fellow Democrats, including $12,000 to members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, according to an analysis of campaign finance data maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics. Eshoo does not have a leadership PAC.