Eshoo, Pallone compete for Waxman's job

Reps. Anna Eshoo (Calif.) and Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.) are squaring off to replace retiring Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.) as the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the longest-serving member of Congress, might also jump in the race.

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In separate statements on Monday, Eshoo and Pallone said they have consulted with other Democratic lawmakers to seek the post on one of the House’s most powerful panels.

The announcements set off an intriguing race between the two candidates, who will be vying for the support of their fellow Democrats. Decisions on ranking members and chairmen of panels are made by each party after the elections.

The Energy and Commerce Committee has authority over the environment, healthcare and communications laws, among other issues.

Waxman became the chairman after a successful challenge in 2008 of Dingell, who is also still on the panel and has not ruled out a run for the top post — a position he amplified on Monday.

“I’m boarding a flight back to Washington now, but nothing has changed since my statement last week,” Dingell said in an email. “I look forward to continuing to give this thoughtful consideration, speaking with my colleagues upon my return, and from there I will find the absolute best ways in which I can serve the people of Michigan’s 12th Congressional District.”

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), a former chairman of the Energy and Commerce panel, said that he expects Dingell will take a serious look at retaking the mantle.

“I wouldn’t count John Dingell out,” he said. “So you’d have Dingell, Pallone, Eshoo, and there may be a few more.”

A Democratic aide said it’s still early in the process, but also suggested the field could grow.

“Any time these things open up there’s always somebody three or four seats down who gets the itch,” the aide said. 

Pallone, who is in his 13th term in the House, has seniority on the panel over Eshoo. But Eshoo is a fellow member of Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s California delegation — the largest in the House — and is a close ally of the minority leader.

Pelosi’s office declined to say if she’s been in discussions with anyone about the race, emphasizing that she rarely takes a public position on such contests.

“She doesn’t get involved,” a spokesman said Monday.

During the Waxman-Dingell contest, Pelosi publicly stayed neutral. But many members and aides said Pelosi was on Waxman’s side. Pelosi in 2002 endorsed then-Rep. Lynn Rivers (D-Mich.) over Dingell, a matchup created by redistricting.

Pallone on Monday highlighted his work messaging for Democrats in arguing he should get the nod.

“As the person tasked with developing the Democratic Caucus’ message on the House Floor, I believe I would be the most effective voice to lead the committee toward a successful future,” Pallone, who serves as the Democratic Policy Committee’s communications chairman, said in a statement.

“Even in the often divided climate of the last several years, I have worked to find common ground with my colleagues to get things done because I believe that our government can still do good things that will help Americans and make our nation even stronger,” he added.

Pallone has served as either chairman or ranking member of three of the committee’s six subcommittees and is currently the top Democrat on the Health subpanel, a position from which he helped to engineer the Democrats’ 2010 healthcare reform law. 

Last year, Pallone vied unsuccessfully to replace the late-Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D), losing that contest to former Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D).

Eshoo was first elected to the House in 1992 and is now the top Democrat on the Communications and Technology subcommittee. Her Silicon Valley district is a few miles from Pelosi’s.

In announcing her candidacy, Eshoo described the Energy and Commerce panel as the “ ‘Committee of the Future’ and the most dynamic by its jurisdictions.”

“It is key to shaping America’s future, just as my Silicon Valley congressional district is,” she added.

Waxman’s office did not respond to a request for comment about his endorsement of a possible successor.

For the meantime, however, the ranking member is not slowing his pace of activity. On Monday, he joined Pallone and Eshoo in introducing a bill to reinstate the net neutrality rules at the Federal Communications Commission.

Barton, who praised Waxman’s performance in the “thankless job” of ranking member, said that he did not expect the standoff over his succession to affect the committee’s operation.

“There’s a lot of things that have to occur before you make those kinds of decisions,” he said. “All I know is for the rest of this Congress it’s Henry Waxman, and he will do a good job in that position.”In announcing her candidacy, Eshoo described the Energy and Commerce panel as the “‘Committee of the Future’ and the most dynamic by its jurisdictions.”

“It is key to shaping America’s future, just as my Silicon Valley congressional district is,” she added.

This story was posted at 12:51 p.m. and updated at 2:46 p.m. and 8:34 p.m.