By A. B. Stoddard - 11/19/08 06:30 PM EST
So this is what change looks like.
Party infighting, lots of Clinton alumni set to reunite at the White House, electoral recounts, runoffs and enough remaining rancor to push any action on the downward spiral of the economy off at least another two months — feel the difference?
Don’t blame the GOP. Republicans weren’t asking for change anyway. Happy with the status quo and the good old days, GOP congressmen are keeping both Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and John Boehner (Ohio) as their leaders in the Senate and House, respectively. Still others, who also miss the good old days, are fighting out in the open. Mike Huckabee is picking on Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich is putting Sarah Palin in her place.
Congressional leaders planned a lame-duck session, only to come to town this week without enough votes to pass much — for a change. And of course, what would the new beginning be without a chairmanship battle in the triumphant new Democratic majority? Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) blindsided Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) — albeit during a courteous phone call — with a sudden challenge for the gavel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that had the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) written all over it. Dingell has knocked heads with Pelosi over fuel-efficiency standards he wants to spare Detroit but Pelosi deems necessary to “save the planet.”
Should Dingell prevail, another Pelosi-backed insurgency will have failed, as it did in 2006 when she pushed Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) for majority leader against Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). Waxman will then return to his chair at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Not much change. Should Waxman prevail and take the reins in the climate debate, he will be no more able to sway a host of the more conservative Dingell supporters likely to join Michiganders in blocking restrictions on the auto industry. What is worse, a Waxman victory upends the seniority system and encourages further insurgency. That sure is change; it’s called chaos.
Then there is the question of just how airtight the Obama operation remains these days, and why it seems to have lifted the ban on drama. The nomination of Eric Holder as attorney general leaked out, the potential nomination of Obama’s fiercest rival for secretary of State leaked out, and all before any key players — particularly that much-anticipated Treasury secretary — have been announced. The Hillary Clinton promotion has been a subject of intense public debate for an entire week as Team Obama remains mute and Bill and Hillary go into drama-overdrive.
The couple is speaking out of two sides of the mouth: Bill promising to give up foreign income and step back from day-to-day operations of his foundation so his wife can head the State Department, while “advisers familiar with her thinking” claim Hillary isn’t so set on the job since she couldn’t pay back her campaign debt at State and isn’t entirely comfortable working for Obama. “If you are secretary of State you work for the president,” the adviser told The New York Times. “If you are a senator, you work for yourself and the people that elected you.” Anyone want to guess what more the Clintons have in store for an Obama administration?
Change is in the air, all right; we’re all just waiting for it to settle over the nation’s capital. Of course, Senate Democrats did resist the temptation to punish Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). Having frustrated them since 1997, starting with the campaign finance investigation, Lieberman knows he is a lucky man and Barack Obama spared him. Yep, Joe the Chairman — he likes change.
Then again, Obama needs his vote, and Lieberman contributed $230,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the last cycle. And when it comes to campaign money, that’s some serious change.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.