Breaking news out of Washington: Rep. John Dingell, the Michigan congressman who has used his position as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee to protect Detroit’s automakers from serious environmental mandates, has lost his bid to continue leading the panel.

House Democrats today chose to install Henry Waxman of California at the committee’s helm. Politico puts it into context: “The ascension of Waxman, a wily environmentalist, recasts a committee that Dingell has chaired since 1981 with an eye toward protecting the domestic auto industry in his native Michigan. The Energy and Commerce Committee has principal jurisdiction over many of President-elect Barack Obama’s top legislative priorities, including energy, the environment and health care.”

More from the New York Times: “Mr. Waxman, who has been the chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was backed by many environmentalists for his stands on clean air and global warming, and he has a long record of leadership on health care issues. … Mr. Waxman is generally regarded as more liberal than Mr. Dingell, and has sponsored tougher global warming legislation. Mr. Dingell’s backers argued, unsuccessfully, that he was more likely to knit together a broad coalition of labor, industry and environmentalists in fashioning a climate change bill.”

The Detroit News said, “The ouster of Dingell, the longest serving member in the House, was seen as a victory for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. While she publicly remained neutral in the Dingell-Waxman battle, many lawmakers and congressional watchers argued she privately wanted Waxman, a fellow liberal from California to win.” The Free Press noted, “U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, a Menominee Democrat and one of Dingell’s closest lieutenants on the committee, was asked what message the vote by the Democratic caucus to replace Dingell sent to the automotive industry. ‘Not a good one,’ he said, adding the Dingell ‘took it better than most of us.'”

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