Politico - Dingell Exit Clears Way for Eshoo vs. Pallone

February 26, 2014
In The News

The retirement of Rep. John Dingell clears the field for a two-way contest between Reps. Anna Eshoo and Frank Pallone for the top Democratic spot

By Darren Goode

The retirement of Rep. John Dingell clears the field for a two-way contest between Reps. Frank Pallone and Anna Eshoo for the top Democratic spot on the Energy and Commerce Committee, guaranteeing Democrats will get a fresh face to lead them on the powerful panel.
Both Dingell and the panel’s ranking member Henry Waxman will retire at the end of the current Congress, setting up the race between New Jersey’s Pallone and Californian Eshoo to be only the third lawmaker to lead Democrats on the panel since the beginning of the Reagan administration.
Pallone helped Waxman craft Obamacare and is banking on his seniority status to help seal the deal, while Eshoo’s camp is emphasizing that she would usher in a new era for her party on the panel.
“I find that members do think that seniority is important,” Pallone told POLITICO in an interview earlier this month.
At least some do.
Energy and Commerce panelist G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said he and the Congressional Black Caucus typically support the seniority system except under extenuating circumstances.
Butterfield, who talked to POLITICO early this month and before Dingell’s retirement announcement Monday, said he would support Pallone if Dingell didn’t run. “Not only because he’s second but because he’s also a capable leader,” he said.
But Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) said he would side with Eshoo, noting he has worked with her for years on telecom policy. “So I feel like I know Anna better,” he told POLITICO.
Doyle, who is helping Eshoo round up support, was a leading backer of Dingell’s during the Michigan lawmaker’s unsuccessful effort to fend off Waxman’s challenge in late 2008, and had accurately predicted weeks ago that the Michigan Democrat wasn’t going to try again.
His support of Eshoo, as well as Waxman’s successful 2008 challenge, underscore that seniority doesn’t always rule. Waxman won the top Democratic spot by only 15 caucus votes over Dingell, and the matchup between Pallone and Eshoo — who both announced their bids within minutes of one another after Waxman announced his retirement early this month — could be tight as well.
“It’s going to be a very interesting and close race between the two of them because they’re both highly respected in the caucus,” Doyle said. The vote may come down to the current batch of freshmen Democrats and those who may join the House after the November election, he predicted.
Both Pallone and Eshoo have touted their focus on bipartisanship, while the New Jersey Democrat also stressed his role in defending Obamacare on the House floor against Republican attacks.
“They want someone who’s a team player, who believes strongly in the Democratic principles and is able to message the Democratic agenda,” Pallone said. “People mention that to me a lot. They know that I’ve been very effective in getting across the Democratic message, whether it’s health care or environment or any other issue.”
Eshoo is a good friend of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and may garner the support of others in their powerful California delegation. She could also gain the backing of other female lawmakers hoping to make history by putting a woman at the party’s helm of one of the oldest and most sweeping congressional committee.
Eshoo, who chairs the panel’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee, has emphasized her knowledge and work on technology policy in representing her Silicon Valley district, and she doesn’t see the seniority ladder as sacrosanct.
“It’s healthy to have more than one person out there. You know, it’s a competition of ideas,” she told reporters early this month.
Her district is home to Tesla, and she is seeking a new Republican to co-sponsor legislation promoting electric vehicles that she and former Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) pushed last Congress. She is also a co-sponsor with Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) of a bill to requiring the use of energy efficient technologies in federal data centers. That bill is expected to be marked up in the committee soon.
Pallone chairs the Health Subcommittee and is the third-highest ranking Democrat on the E&C panel. He was elected to Congress in 1988, four years before Eshoo, who is the fifth in seniority on the panel.
That doesn’t leave much daylight between them as far as overall experience, though Pallone points out he has served on all of the energy panel’s subcommittees.
“We’re talking about two members that have been there for a while and are both senior in their own right,” Doyle said.
For now, it’s unclear whether other Democrats who had publicly said they would back a Dingell bid would shift their support to Pallone.
One of those early Dingell supporters on the energy panel, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), was non-committal Monday.
“The congresswoman counts both Congressman Pallone and Congresswoman Eshoo as dear friends, and she looks forward to having conversations with both of them about their ideas for the committee’s direction,” a DeGette spokesman emailed POLITICO.
Doyle — whose office in the Cannon House building is nestled in between Pallone’s and Eshoo’s — said both are “well liked, well-respected members of the caucus.”
Others have echoed that.
“Each race kind of stands on its own and I think that we’re fortunate in that both of them … are very qualified,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), a senior member of the energy panel and ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Engel and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) were among those saying it was too early to predict who would win.
“They’re all great. And it’s a year off,” Welch said early this month.