Black lawmakers want seniority respected

Black lawmakers are promoting the notion that seniority should be the paramount factor in deciding ranking member posts ahead of next week's Democratic committee elections.  

In a letter sent Thursday to fellow Democrats, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgeIf Democrats want to take back the White House start now A guide to the committees: House Dems claim unity, but are still in search of a message MORE (D-Ohio) said that, despite “very limited” cases when more junior members have jumped into top spots, “the seniority system has worked well and should be honored.”

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“[T]hose who through years of service have gained significant expertise and knowledge should be given priority to lead our committees and sub-committees,” Fudge wrote.

The message pushes back against the one being delivered by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is promoting fellow California Rep. Anna Eshoo (D) over the more senior Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) for the ranking member position on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. 

In her own “Dear Colleague” letter sent Monday, Pelosi argued that seniority should be “a consideration [but] not a determination” as members vote for committee leaders.

“[I]t 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,” Pelosi wrote.

Fudge acknowledged those cases but characterized them as “rare instances [that] must be considered individually and in light of all facts and circumstances then present.”

News of Fudge's letter was first reported by the Crew of 42 blog, which focuses on members of the CBC.

The CBC has a vested interest in keeping the seniority system intact, as seven members are slated to assume ranking member positions in the next Congress. In only one of those cases does the CBC member face a challenger: Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), next in line for ranking member of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, is being challenged by Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), the lowest-ranking Democrat on the panel.

The Democrats are expected to vote for committee leaders next week, following the Nov. 18 leadership elections.