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Nadler wins steering panel vote for Judiciary Committee post

Nadler wins steering panel vote for Judiciary Committee post
© Greg Nash

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), on Tuesday, won the first leg of the race to become the leading Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, marking an early victory for seniority in the contest to replace former Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersDemocrats debate timing and wisdom of reparations vote House panel approves bill to set up commission on reparations Chicago suburb could serve as road map for reparations MORE Jr. (Mich.) atop the powerful panel.

The Democrats’ Steering and Policy Committee voted 41-18 to recommend Nadler, over Rep. Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenCapitol Police watchdog paints damning picture of Jan. 6 failures Capitol Police watchdog issues report slamming 'deficiencies' before riot Lofgren says she's been briefed on 'disturbing' police report on riot MORE (D-Calif.), to succeed Conyers, who was forced to resign from Congress earlier this month over a string of sexual harassment allegations.

“It turned out very nicely,” Nadler said, emerging from the meeting in the Capitol basement.

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The vote is just a procedural step, setting up a broader vote among the entire House Democratic Caucus, which will huddle Wednesday morning to decide the ultimate victor. To prompt the second vote of the full caucus, each candidate must win at least 14 votes before the Steering panel — a threshold Lofgren met.

Both Nadler, in his 13th term, and Lofgren, in her 12th, are seasoned veterans with strong liberal bona fides, and both are well respected across the various factions of the Democratic Caucus. Indeed, both candidates are quick to acknowledge there’s little daylight between them when it comes to policy.

Plenty of external political factors, though, are driving the contest.

Nadler is the longer-serving member of the Judiciary Committee — an influential distinction in a Democratic Caucus that’s historically put a premium on seniority. The 49-member Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), for instance, tends to favor the seniority system, which has rewarded its members’ longevity, and House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi criticized after thanking Floyd for 'sacrificing' his life Waters on Chauvin guilty verdict: 'I'm not celebrating, I'm relieved' Minneapolis mayor on Floyd: 'Ultimately his life will have bettered our city' MORE (D-Calif.) has backed that arrangement with few exceptions.

Nadler is also known as the constitutional expert among House Democrats, and his pitch to colleagues in recent weeks has featured the argument that the ongoing investigations into the Trump White House could create a “constitutional crisis” that he’s particularly qualified to manage.

Tuesday’s lopsided vote on the Steering and Policy Committee — a panel over which Pelosi holds notable sway — is some indication that his message has been well accepted.

Still, the Steering and Policy vote is no sure prediction of how the larger caucus will lean. In the 2014 race for the ranking member spot on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooLawmakers launch bipartisan caucus on SALT deduction Biden clean electricity standard faces high hurdles House Democrats introduce carbon pricing measure MORE (D-Calif.) won the support of the steering committee, only to lose the seat to Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneIntercept bureau chief: Democrats dropping support of Medicare for All could threaten bill's momentum House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 House Democrats criticize Texas's 'shortcomings in preparations' on winter storms MORE (D-N.J.) when the full caucus weighed in.

Lofgren, an immigration expert, has won key backing from influential members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, particularly Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), who see immigration as their most pressing issue in the face of the tough-enforcement approach adopted by the Trump administration.

Lofgren is also making the case that the Judiciary Committee, which has never had a woman in either the chair or ranking member seat in 204 years, is due for a change. Diversity, she emphasizes, is among the factors the caucus is expected to weigh in picking committee leaders. And the ignominious exit of Conyers, she says, only lends additional weight to that argument.

The Democrats will meet at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the Capitol to pick their winner. Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa DeLauroBottom line Biden looks to bolster long-term research and development Democratic senators call on Biden to support waiving vaccine patents MORE (D-Conn.), a co-chairwoman of the steering committee, cautioned against the notion that Nadler’s overwhelming win Tuesday guarantees him the victory.

“You never know in this institution,” she said. “We take ’em one vote at a time.”