By The Hill Staff - 03/20/12 11:36 PM EDT
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has long played a major role in deciding which House Democrats get prized committee perches.
But her hand, for the most part, is not revealed publicly. As both Speaker and minority leader, Pelosi has exercised control in this area behind the scenes.
Pelosi did not publicly endorse Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) in 2008 when he challenged Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) for the Energy and Commerce gavel. But it was widely perceived on Capitol Hill that she backed her California colleague. That helped Waxman defeat Dingell for the high-profile post.
In coming months, Pelosi faces other committee decisions. In the wake of Rep. Norm Dicks’s (D-Wash.) retirement announcement, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) has put her name forward to become ranking Democrat on the Appropriations panel.
Kaptur is next in line of seniority (not counting House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who has indicated he will not mount a bid.). But other Democrats want to replace Dicks, such as Reps. Nita Lowey (N.Y.) and Jim Moran (Va.), and Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) unsuccessfully challenged Dicks in 2010.
There is concern about Kaptur in the Democratic Caucus. She has a mixed record on abortion rights, for example having joined forces with then-Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) to seek changes to the 2010 healthcare reform bill so that it would prohibit government funding of abortion.
The 65-year-old Ohio lawmaker, the longest-serving woman in the House, has never been shy in speaking her mind.
Following the 2011 GOP takeover of the House, she and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) demanded that Democratic leadership elections be delayed. This request, which was denied, was seen as an effort to stall Pelosi’s confirmation as leader. It didn’t work, and could come back to haunt Kaptur now that an important gavel seems within her reach.
Leadership aides note that the entire Democratic Caucus votes on committee appointments, but others point out that Pelosi has a lot of sway with colleagues.
Pelosi’s focus is on winning back the House majority, and decisions about panel seats in the next Congress will not be made until after November.
There is speculation that if Democrats fail to win back the House, this Congress could be Pelosi’s last. But if she does continue to serve as the House’s top Democrat, she will face difficult choices. For now, she is working to ensure that Democrats will be picking chairmen, instead of ranking members.