Thursday, March 22, 2012

Watch Kaptur Struggle for Clues on Faleomavaega

It does not take a rocket scientist or a Capitol Hill insider to get a feel for the internal politics of Congress. You can be thousands of miles away from Washington and all you need is a Google news alert for the right subjects and publications and contact numbers for or e-mail addresses of a few staffers in the House to get a sense of what is happening. Rep. Marci Kaptur (D-OH), fresh off her primary victory over Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), may have an even tougher battle ahead to ascend to the top Democratic slot on the House Appropriations Committee. As this story points out (,
Despite Kaptur’s seniority Nita Lowey (D-NY) will challenge her and Nancy Pelosi will have a lot to say about who gets the position. If Democrats retake the House, the winner of this caucus battle will become the chair of the very powerful Appropriations Committee.

In a previous post, we made the same point about Faleomavaega, who will be in line to take the top Democratic seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee if the current Ranking Democrat, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), loses his primary to Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) in June. Both the Berman-Sherman and Kaptur-Kucinich primaries are a result of census-mandated redistricting in their states.

There are several signs that Faleomavaega would not have an easy path to the chairmanship, starting with precedent that would be set in giving a full committee chairmanship to a non-voting delegate. This situation has not arisen in the past because the other delegates all have departed Congress before the question arose. By contrast, Faleomavaega keeps hanging on.

The question may not arise this year, either, because Berman very well could hold on to his seat and there is no guarantee Democrats will regain control of the House. Still, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi might not want to let Faleomavaega have the ranking position because it would be more awkward to dislodge him if her party regains control in two or four years’ time.

Of course, Faleomavaega has to win reelection, too, but that seems likely. If Pelosi is forced into having to make a choice, there are some signs that point to trouble for the delegate. First, when he was chairman of the House foreign affairs subcommittee on Asia, Pacific and Global Environment [emphasis added], he was not included in a 20+ member House delegation led by Pelosi to an international global warming conference in Denmark a couple of years ago. This is viewed by some as a sign of her low regard for Faleomavaega. Some believe global environment was added to his portfolio primarily as a way to keep him away from Washington by letting him justify his world-wide travels as being environmentally related and give him access to a congressional budget to fund his wanderings.

Second, after years of loyal service as Rep. Mike Honda’s (D-CA) vice chairman of the Asia Pacific Congressional Caucus, when Honda stepped down he stabbed Faleomavaega in the back by endorsing a freshman California House member to succeed him. Rather than face embarrassing defeat, Faleomavaega stepped aside in his quest for the chairmanship and his vice chair slot went to another junior territorial delegate, Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU), leaving him out in the cold altogether.

Third, there is pressure on all Democratic House members to pay dues (make contributions) to the House Democratic Campaign Committee to help elect more Democrats to the House as this story points out: Faleomavaega typically has relied on a handful of big contributions from Asia-American donors on the West Coast to win re-election and likely does not have additional resources to make any large contribution to the campaign committee.

Finally, there is another House member available who could take the Foreign Affairs position without it appearing someone junior was jumping over the delegate. Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) is behind Faleomavaega in committee seniority because he joined the panel later than the delegate did but actually is just ahead of him in overall seniority in the Democratic Caucus.

Nancy Pelosi won’t be paying much attention to all of this until after June 5 and then only if Howard Berman loses. And even then there won’t be much press attention, given the lack of importance of the committee. So, people looking to see what Pelosi might do should watch what happens with the Kaptur-Lowey battle. Because there is so much at stake in appropriations, that one will get much more press attention.

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