By Russell Berman, Jeremy Herb and Erik Wasson - 03/02/12 07:56 PM EST
Just hours after the retirement announcement of Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), a race is already under way among House Democrats seeking to replace him as the party’s top appropriator.
Dicks is the ranking member of the powerful Appropriations Committee, and his successor would be poised to become chairman if Democrats win back the House majority in November.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) is next in line in seniority, and told The Hill on Friday that she wants the top spot. Kaptur, however, faces a primary election Tuesday against fellow Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich that will likely determine her future in Congress.
A source close to Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), a 12-term member who ranks below Kaptur and Rep. Peter Visclosky (Ind.) in Democratic Party seniority, said she is actively pursuing the ranking member post and has already begun making calls to colleagues seeking support.
The source said Lowey is pitching herself as a longtime member of the Appropriations Committee who sits in the middle of the Democratic caucus ideologically and has ties to both centrists and liberals. Lowey is a former chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a post that can build deep ties with fellow lawmakers.
Asked about Lowey’s interest in becoming ranking member, Kaptur said she hasn’t spoken to Lowey yet. “I want to hear from her,” said Kaptur, who added that she is trying to reach Lowey and talk with other members of the committee.
Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who is seventh in seniority among Democrats on the committee, is giving “serious consideration” to running for ranking member, his spokesman said Friday.
“It’s a tall order to find the right person to fill Norm’s shoes, but Mr. Moran is going to give it serious consideration,” Moran spokesman Austin Durrer said in an email.
A Democratic committee aide said Democrats tend to follow seniority more than Republicans, although leadership challenges have occurred on the appropriations panel. When longtime appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) retired in 2010, Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) mounted an unsuccessful challenge against Dicks, who was next in line by seniority.
After the GOP took the House in 2011, Reps. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) all vied for the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee, which eventually went to Rogers.
One wild card in the Democratic race could be Rep. Jim Clyburn (S.C.). The Democratic committee aide said Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democratic leader, retains committee seniority from his days as an appropriator, so he would have a shot at the job. The top two House Democrats, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), are also former appropriators.
A source close to Clyburn noted that he retained his seniority on the committee but declined to speculate on his return. A spokeswoman for Hoyer said the No. 2 Democrat would not be returning to the Appropriations Committee.
Another senior member of the panel, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), could also look at the race. A close Pelosi ally, DeLauro said in a statement she was surprised by Dicks's decision to leave Congress. "Democrats must work to win back the House in November to implement our agenda, and to restore funding to the many critical programs that have been cut under the Republican majority," DeLauro said. "I look forward to continuing to work to shape the Appropriations Committee’s vital role in supporting spending priorities that benefit American families this year and in the future.”
Dicks announced his retirement from the House on Friday, saying he wants to “change gears and enjoy life at a different pace” after serving 18 terms in the House.
“He said that retaking the majority is still up in the air,” the Democratic aide said, discounting the idea that Dicks quit out of fear of remaining in the minority.
Dicks is also ranking member of the Appropriations subcommittee on Defense, and defense insiders see three possible replacements: Kaptur, Moran and Visclosky.
If both Kaptur and Moran seek the top spot on the full committee, the Defense subcommittee could wind up as a consolation prize.
Visclosky has seniority on the Defense subcommittee, but some defense analysts say his ties to the PMA Group ethics scandal, which forced him to temporarily step down as chairman of the subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies, might hamper his chances at the top slot.
While Moran and Kaptur were also included in the Ethics Committee investigation, Visclosky was one of the main targets because of his close ties to the PMA Group.
The FBI subpoenaed Visclosky’s office, and his chief of staff retired amid the federal probe.
In 2010, the Ethics Committee found there wasn’t evidence that any of the members tied to PMA exchanged contributions for earmarks, and Visclosky eventually returned to his position as chairman of the Energy and Water subcommittee. He is now its ranking member.
The founder of the now-defunct PMA Group, Paul Magliocchetti, pleaded guilty in 2010 to making false statements, making illegal conduit contributions and making illegal corporate contributions.
One defense analyst who works closely on congressional issues said Visclosky is the “clear favorite” to replace Dicks on the subcommittee, arguing that the PMA Group issue is behind him now.
— This story was updated at 3:52 p.m.