Sacking Dingell

Nancy Pelosi, flush with the excitement of a newly expanded majority and a new liberal post-partisan president, took two steps that may make her time as Speaker fairly short.

First, she kissed goodbye to Rahm Emanuel, the fiery, combative and highly partisan caucus leader. He is going to the White House, where he will take his brand of personal diplomacy to the highest rungs of the Obama administration. Republicans reacted negatively to this appointment, pointing out Emanual’s partisanship. For me, it was good for Obama and good for House Republicans. Rahm will do his best to crack down on the liberals who are sure to dominate the White House, and his departure will be a huge loss for House Democrats. He was their best strategist and most effective organizer. Without Emanuel, there would be no Democratic majority.

Second, Pelosi is backing the coup against John Dingell, led by Henry Waxman. As a Republican strategist, I am delighted by this power play, because it could mean the beginning of a divided and weaker Democratic Caucus.

Dingell has been one of the most effective chairmen in the history of the House, so taking him out would be good for Republicans.

Dingell has fought hard for working-class Americans, especially the blue-collar guys who work for the auto industry. Sacking Dingell sends an unmistakable message to the working class that their voice will be taken for granted by the Democratic majority. These Reagan Democrat voters are exactly what the GOP needs to reform a governing coalition.

There has long been a green-blue divide within the House Democratic Caucus. Waxman, a California liberal, is a leader among the radical environmentalists who have pushed the kinds of regulations that have put the auto-industry in a precarious financial position. Dingell, on the other hand, is a leader among the manufacturing wing of the Democratic Party. He has fought to protect autoworkers and the car industry against the crushing regulations pushed for by the Waxman wing of the party.

Sacking a chairman because he incompetent is one thing. Sacking a chairman because of a personal slight or because he disagrees with you on an issue is something completely different.

Most members will support a Speaker who sacks an incapacitated or incompetent chairman. But some members will grow very nervous when a chairman is sacked for political reasons. They know that the bell may next toll for them.

When the House Republican leadership decided to replace Chris Smith (N.J.) as chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, it sent a signal to veterans and to moderates everywhere that the Republican leadership was no longer on its side.

While it might have seemed like a good idea at the time, especially as a tool to impose discipline, it marked the beginning of the decline of the House Republican majority.

Chris Smith is a small fish compared to John Dingell. Dingell is the dean of the House and the symbol of the car industry in the Congress. Taking him out is kind of like taking out General Motors or Ford.

So, my message to House Democrats is simple. Go ahead and make my day. Replace John Dingell with Henry Waxman and start going down the road to a new House Republican majority.


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