By Jonathan E. Kaplan - 12/06/06 12:00 AM EST
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairmanship seems to be the job nobody wants but everyone is willing to accept — at least on the surface.
Incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who controls the appointment, could make a decision by the end of this week, according to senior Democratic aides. The party committee chairman is charged with recruiting candidates, fundraising and formulating an earned media strategy.
So far, Democratic leaders have focused on committee assignments, putting off a decision about who will chair the DCCC. The Democratic Steering and Policy Committee has met at least three times this week to determine subcommittee chairmanships and new members on the Ways and Means and Appropriations committees. Democratic leaders hope to wrap up their decisions before the lame-duck session ends on Thursday, but Pelosi might ask members to stay Friday or return after the 109th Congress ends, said a former Democratic lawmaker with close ties to the present leadership.
Outgoing DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said last summer that he would not seek a second term because of family considerations. Democratic aides agree only on the uncertainty surrounding the vacancy and the members on the short list to fill it. They include Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), who, according to Democratic sources, appears to have the inside track over other possible contenders such as Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), Artur Davis (Ala.), Kendrick Meek (Fla.), Mike Thompson (Calif.), and Xavier Becerra (Calif.).
Davis, Thompson, Van Hollen and Wasserman Schultz all served as Emanuel’s deputies. Thompson was charged with helping the most endangered Democratic incumbents while Van Hollen and Wasserman Schultz raised money for the Red to Blue program and served as spokespeople.
Van Hollen, who is in only his second term, has the support of Pelosi and incoming Majority Whip Steny Hoyer, a fellow Marylander, according to knowledgeable sources. He is also respected among the caucus for defeating longtime GOP incumbent Rep. Connie Morella (Md.) back in 2002 and for leading the DCCC’s candidate-recruitment efforts this past cycle.
The contenders are publicly cagey about their interest in the top House party post. None of the lawmakers said they knew details about the timing, or appear to be actively lobbying to succeed Emanuel.
Van Hollen and Meek also have said they are not actively seeking the post.
“I’m always ready to help our caucus, but the DCCC chairmanship is Speaker-designate Pelosi’s decision, and I’m not actively campaigning for the top post,” Meek said in a statement.
Becerra, who had sought to become vice-chairman of the Democratic Caucus if Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) moved to become chairman, was mentioned as a possible contender last week on a blog on U.S. News and World Report’s website. But, he too, denied actively seeking the post.
“I will continue to be as helpful as I can be in moving forward a Democratic agenda in the House of Representatives,” he said last week in a statement. “I am looking forward to working with and for Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi in the 110th Congress.”
It is unclear if actively seeking the post is a good strategy. In 2002, Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) openly campaigned for the job with the support of Congressional Black Caucus members who campaigned aggressively on his behalf. Even so, Pelosi, then minority leader, installed her ally, former Rep. Bob Matsui (D-Calif.).
The choice of chairman is politically sensitive for Pelosi. While she appointed Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, there is still no Hispanic lawmaker in a leadership position. In the recent midterm election, Hispanic voters voted for Democrats by a 69 to 30 margin, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
The William C. Velazquez Institute, a non-partisan think tank, estimated by using exit polling data in eight states with large Hispanic populations that Latino voters favored Democrats 67 percent to 29 percent in congressional races nationwide.
In addition, the appointment has raised questions about the role gender plays in members’ decisions about running for leadership. Family responsibilities weigh on most members, and aides are quick to point to Wasserman Schultz’s young children as a reason she might decline the post. But Emanuel and Van Hollen have young families, too.
Still, the job includes considerable travel, and one advantage that Van Hollen has over other contenders is that he lives in Maryland. He would not have to spend the time commuting from Washington, D.C. to a district in California or Florida, and could spend more time crisscrossing the country because of that.
Pelosi spokeswoman Jennifer Crider declined to comment on the selection process.