Muckraker: Grist on Politics

More from Politico on Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) challenging John Dingell for the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Apparently, some on the Hill are accusing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) of “plotting to overthrow” Dingell:

But there’s a history of bad blood between Dingell and Pelosi — she stripped him of authority over global warming issues last year — and some of Dingell’s allies suspect that Pelosi and her closest confidant in the House, Rep. George Miller of California, are behind Waxman’s insurgency.

One former Democratic lawmaker suggested this might be “Murtha redux” — a reference to suspicions that Pelosi engineered Rep. John P. Murtha’s unsuccessful run against Rep. Steny H. Hoyer for majority leader in 2006.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

If Pelosi stays out of the fight, Waxman will face an uphill battle. If she weighs in heavily on his behalf, the odds might move in Waxman’s favor. “Nancy gets what Nancy wants,” one Democratic lawmaker said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “If she wants Waxman, she will get Waxman.”

Pelosi has told other Democrats that she was not aware that Waxman was going to challenge Dingell until after Waxman called Dingell on Wednesday morning to tell him. “She did not know this was coming,” insisted a senior House Democratic aide. “She had no idea and only found out when everyone else did.”

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

This power play reveals the rift within the Democratic Party on energy and environmental issues, most notably, climate change. Waxman, who currently chairs the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and is the second-ranking Democrat on Energy and Commerce, has advocated for much tougher climate change policies than Dingell. The “Safe Climate Act” he proposed in 2006 included emissions cuts of 80 percent below 1990 levels by mid-century, and he also cosponsored a bill to ban new coal-fired power plants earlier this year. He also joined with Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) to author a statement of principles for climate legislation, which 152 representatives have signed.

Dingell’s name is nearly always followed by the phrase “the powerful chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee,” reflecting the broad range of issues his committee covers – energy, environment, health care, and consumer protections, to name a few. He is the longest-serving current member of the House, and as of Feb. 1, 2009, he’ll be the longest-serving representative in history.

Dingell played a key role in the passage of the Clean Air and the Endangered Species acts. Over the years he has approached energy issues in an industry-friendly manner. Representing Michigan has made him a particularly strong ally of the auto industry, and he has resisted fuel economy increases and boosted nuclear. Last month he issued a draft of a climate bill that, though tougher than enviros were expecting from his committee, looked likely to be more lenient than other proposals floating around the Hill.

Last year, when Pelosi took over as Speaker, she sought to create a special committee to deal with climate change and energy independence — and made it clear that she didn’t think Dingell was the appropriate person to lead it. Dingell chaffed at that suggestion and hasn’t had many nice things to say about the committee that was created to work on those issues since then. It’s not surprising, then, that the issue has resurfaced again this year — though many on the Hill were surprised by Waxman’s power grab less than 24 hours after the election.

“Tearing a leadership apart is something the Republicans should be doing after their big loss. It shouldn’t be the first order of business for the Democrats after a historic election,” said Dingell’s spokeswoman, Jodi Seth.

Waxman issued a statement late Wednesday, but did not explicitly mention Dingell: “We will need the very best leadership in Congress and our committees to succeed. That is why after long thought I have decided to seek the chairmanship of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. Enacting comprehensive energy, climate, and health care reform will not be easy. But my record shows that I have the skill and ability to build consensus and deliver legislation that improves the lives of all Americans.”