Pelosi downplays seniority in panel contest

Lending advice to her caucus ahead of this year's committee leadership elections, House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Democrats will 'certainly' beat Trump in 2020 Kavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Lewandowski, Democrats tangle at testy hearing MORE said Monday that seniority should not be the deciding factor.

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In a letter to her troops, Pelosi once again endorsed fellow California Rep. Anna Eshoo in her bid to jump over the more senior Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) for the ranking member spot on the Energy and Commerce Committee in the next Congress. 

Pelosi downplayed the significance of Pallone's seniority, noting that five current ranking members are junior to other Democrats on their respective panels.

"It is important to note our Caucus has voted in to Chair or Ranking Member positions Members who are not the more senior on their respective committees, including Henry Waxman, Energy and Commerce; Nita Lowey, Appropriations; Adam Smith, Armed Services; Elijah Cummings, Oversight and Government Reform; and Eliot Engel, Foreign Affairs," she wrote.

"In each of these elections there was enormous respect for the senior Member, but our colleagues viewed seniority as a consideration not a determination."

The letter is Pelosi's third this year endorsing Eshoo — an unusually public move for the minority leader, who traditionally operates behind closed doors on such matters.

The issue has split top Democrats; Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is backing Pallone.

"I have historically been for the ranking member, the senior member, if that member is capable and able, and if that member has contributed significantly to the legislative product, to the party's efforts," Hoyer said in March following Pelosi's initial letter endorsing Eshoo. "I think Frank Pallone has done all those."

Pallone is currently the third-ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce panel, while Eshoo is the fifth. They're vying for the ranking member spot soon to be vacated by the retiring Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). 

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the second-ranking Democrat on the panel, is also retiring, and fourth-ranked Rep. Bobby Rush (Ill.) has been on leave for much of the cycle to tend to his wife, who was sick.

A caucus election to determine the winner will take place later this month.