By Jonathan E. Kaplan - 01/16/07 12:00 AM EST
As his colleagues were voting on the House floor to elect Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) the first female Speaker of the House, Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) was nowhere to be found.
Obey, the incoming Appropriations Committee chairman, was sitting in his new office across the hall from the House chamber. He eventually went to the floor to formally back Pelosi, his longtime friend and ally, in the historic roll call.
One well-placed source noted that Obey is not pleased with the committee chairman term limits that Democrats have adopted, drawing a connection between that controversial policy and the congressman’s late vote for Pelosi.
Obey learned about the decision to limit chairmen to six-year terms the previous evening and began calling his colleagues to change the new rule, said the Democratic source, adding that Obey did not come onto the floor until he had assurances that Pelosi would reconsider the term limits.
Not so, said Obey when asked why he was not in the chamber, adding that he was simply working and lost track of time. He also said he had missed voting for former Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill (D-Mass.) during a roll call vote.
Still, the morning of the vote, Obey and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the dean of the House and the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, voiced their objections to Pelosi.
The Speaker told them that if they can show her they have the votes to overturn the rule, they will get a vote. Yet it is unclear when that will be.
“It will be revisited at some point in time,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said last week. “When it will be revisited I don’t know.”
Pelosi surprised Obey and some of the other incoming committee and subcommittee chairmen when she decided to adhere to the Republican rule on panel chairmen.
“I was quite alarmed,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He added that the chairmen were never informed about the decision to keep that element of the GOP rules package.
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said he learned about the policy from a colleague.
Most Democrats oppose term limits, including Hoyer, who reiterated his opposition last Tuesday when he told reporters that he has introduced legislation during the past several years to lift the two-term limit on presidents.
Waxman said that Pelosi’s staff told him they never intended to adopt the rules and promised to strip term limits from the House rules package.
“We do not intend to have term limits,” he said.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) said, “The Speaker said we would come back to it, but it was not with a ringing certainty I would have liked to have heard in her voice.”
It is unclear whether the chairmen can muster the votes to overturn the rule. It is also unclear whether the vote, if held, could turn into a nasty intra-party skirmish pitting the older lawmakers against their rank-and-file prot