Some Dems angry with Rep. Markey and new energy panel

“Let’s get in his grille,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), referring colloquially and aggressively to Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.).

Weiner was talking to fellow Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee panel last Thursday; they were disgruntled about Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) plan to take away some of their turf by creating a Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming with Markey at its head.

“Guys from Boston are soft,” Weiner added, according to sources at the private meeting last Thursday, and said they should constantly preempt Markey by holding Energy and Commerce panel hearings a day before any scheduled hearing by the new select panel. If Markey traveled to Stockholm, Energy and Commerce members would travel to Stockholm, he said. Lawmakers and aides present chuckled.

Some liberal Democrats are said to be frustrated with Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the Energy and Commerce chairman, who is closely allied with the auto industry and opposes some measures, such as increasing gas mileage standards, to reduce greenhouse gases.

But a cross-section of members are frustrated with Markey.

Energy and Commerce committee members worry that creating a select panel would set a bad precedent. (The Homeland Security panel started as a temporary committee, but is now permanent.) They debated why a task force could not accomplish some of the same goals, said sources in the room.

“Members are angry with Markey because he already had a platform on these issues with three good committee assignments,” said a senior Democratic aide. “Now it looks like he’s trying to take away more from other members to add to his own portfolio.”

Another senior Democratic aide who is an ally of Markey said, “The Speaker is turning to Markey because his past assignments ensure that he knows what he’s talking about, and also because he has frequently helped the party by stepping aside when extra slots were needed on his other committees, and here again, this new select committee helps the Speaker by creating extra slots to help members get good assignments.”

Since the Democrats recaptured the House, Markey has angled to move up the committee ladder. He is the third-ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and serves on the Homeland Security and Natural Resources committees.

Markey suggested late last year that he wanted to head the House Resources Committee. Rep Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), now chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, had been the ranking Democrat, but Markey had more seniority.

Markey also expressed interest in reclaiming his seniority on the U.S. Helsinki Commission, which is part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, but Pelosi named Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) to the post, Democratic sources said.

Markey, 60, arrived in Congress in 1976 after winning a special election. He’s become known for his expertise on telecommunications, energy and health issues. But he also is considered a media hound and his critics noted his penchant for foreign travel and being seen at A-list gatherings, such as last year’s Academy Awards and the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Markey spent the weekend in Boston and returned to Washington yesterday. No further decisions had been made, said a committee aide. 

The only lawmaker on Pelosi’s side was her longtime friend, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.). She said the panel was a “great idea” and didn’t understand what everyone was worried about, according to Democratic sources familiar with the discussion.

The drama did not end Thursday.

On Friday, Dingell met Democratic Reps. Markey, Henry Waxman (Calif.), Rick Boucher (Va.), Bart Gordon (Tenn.), Bobby Rush (Ill.) and Albert Wynn (Md.). He wrote in a memo that “we should work with Markey toward achieving the Speaker’s objectives of creating a communications entity through a different structure.”

That’s not quite how Markey remembered it, David Moulton, Markey’s chief of staff, wrote in an e-mail.

“Rep. Markey appreciated the dialogue that the members had this morning. It was constructive and helpful,” he wrote, adding that Markey did not share the same recollection of the meeting as some participants. The consensus, as far as there was one, was that the select committee would not have legislative power and it would last two years.

“He did not agree, however, that what Pelosi had proposed needed to be restructured,” Moulton wrote.

Pelosi wrote in a memo released Friday, “This [committee] will be a bipartisan entity with no legislative authority [and] will be created only for the current Congress, and will not be extended beyond that date.”

If the proposed select committee were transformed into a task force, the committee chairmen would have more say in legislation. In 1982, former Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) forced the House Democratic Caucus to adopt a rule that gives committees five legislative days to review, consider or report on any legislative measure taken by an ad hoc task force, according to a Congressional Research Service report.