Waxman v. Dingell

In one of the most heated contests of all time in the House Democratic Caucus, Reps. John Dingell (Mich.) and Henry Waxman (Calif.) are dueling it out over who will chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Waxman’s challenge of Dingell’s rule is the talk of the caucus, which will make a decision next week on who gets the gavel.

Rather than run down their policy differences, we opted for a more personal sketch of the candidates. In the course of our research, Dingell’s press office handily helped our efforts while Waxman’s flacks would not provide us with significant details, such as his favorite cuisine and TV shows.

Perhaps Waxman was hesitant to choose considering the wealth of stars he represents. Even so, here we offer a glimpse into the lifestyles of two very different potential chairmen.

 

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.)

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.)
 

Birthplace: Colorado Springs, Colo.
Height: 6’3”
Age: 82
Time in the House: 53 years
Current chairmanship: Energy and Commerce Committee
Religion: Catholic
Controversy: On Dec. 15, 2005, he read a poem on the House floor speaking out against Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly and the “War on Christmas.”

Ailments: Two heart operations; wears hearing aid; had left hip replaced in 1987; another hip surgery in 2006; knee replacement surgery in October 2008. “I creak a little more each year, but I keep going,” he once said.

TV shows he watches regularly: The History Channel

Greatest asset: Longevity. As the “Dean of the House,” he’s the second longest-serving member in the history of the lower chamber. His other greatest asset is his wife, Debbie Dingell, a Democratic National Committeewoman who headed the Michigan campaigns of Al Gore in 2000 and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004. She is the granddaughter of the Fisher brothers, who founded General Motors.

Biggest liability: Age

Pastimes: Hunts deer, elk, caribou and moose; enjoys the ballet and classical music. He has an iPod docking station in his office, where he often listens to classical music.

Nickname: “Big John” because of his imposing frame.

Heavy-hitting constituents: Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally, General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner and Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli; jailed former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, son of Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.).

Unusual detail: House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) once served on his staff.

Prior work experience on Capitol Hill: House page, 1938-1942; he began working as a page when he was 12; Capitol elevator operator while going to college at Georgetown (1949-1953).

Favorite food: Peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches

Animal he most resembles: Polar bear

Most memorable moment: He was at the gavel on the House floor when Medicare passed in 1965. He keeps the gavel in his office.

Why you don’t want to cross him: His infamous “Dingellgrams” — these are “pointed, inquisitive and sometimes harsh” oversight letters to agencies under the congressman’s jurisdiction. They are not to be confused with “Dingellisms” — quirky, folksy sayings that are more lighthearted but can also be harsh. “There is no substitute for a public hanging,” he once said.

Why he’ll win: Longevity; few would succeed at challenging the prowess of this lion of the House, especially with all those animal carcasses on his office walls.

Birthplace: Los Angeles
Height: 5’5”
Age: 69
Time in the House: 33 years
Current chairmanship: Oversight and Government Reform Committee
Religion: Jewish
Controversy: Waxman got gavel-happy in May. Republicans circulated a video of him banging his gavel at least six times during an Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing to quiet Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). He told Issa he’d have him “physically removed” from the hearing room if he didn’t stop his questioning. GOP lawmakers called Waxman’s behavior an outrageous intimidation tactic, and Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) even wrote a letter to the editor of The Washington Post condemning Waxman’s behavior after the newspaper ran a lighthearted story on the incident.

Ailments: No known serious health problems.

TV shows he watches regularly: Waxman’s office did not provide an answer, but it’s possible he has watched “Baywatch” at least once. “I have the hardest time recognizing the stars,” he said at the Washington Correspondents’ Dinner earlier this year. Waxman joked of Pamela Anderson, who attended the parties and the dinner: “I won’t recognize her with clothes on.” He quickly added, “Bathing suits. I’m used to seeing her in bathing suits.”

Greatest asset: He hasn’t gotten wrapped up in the glitz and glamour of his district, which includes Beverly Hills and Hollywood. Waxman has never been to the Academy Awards ceremony.

Biggest liability: GOP lawmakers like to accuse Waxman of being highly partisan and prefer to call his investigations witch-hunts.

Pastimes: Used to play the card game hearts

Nickname: “When I first came on the Budget Committee, I thought Henry’s first name was sonuvabitch,” Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) told the National Journal in 1989. “Everybody who had to deal with him kept saying, ‘Do you know what that sonuvabitch Waxman wants now?’ ”

Heavy-hitting constituents: Waxman’s district is home to many movie stars, so take your pick: George Clooney, Drew Barrymore, Pamela Anderson.

Unusual detail: He is the son of a grocer.

Prior work experience on Capitol Hill: None; he was a member of the California State Assembly.

Favorite cuisine: Waxman’s press office did not provide an answer.

Animal he most resembles: Mouse

Most memorable moment: Waxman has many. He brought former CIA spy Valerie Plame into his hearing room to publicly discuss the leaking of her identity. He grilled Big Tobacco executives about the addictive qualities of cigarettes. He subpoenaed Roger Clemens and other prominent Major League Baseball players to question them on their alleged use of steroids.

Why you don’t want to cross him: He could gavel you to tears.

Why he’ll win: Waxman has proven time and again that he may be small, but he’s scrappy.