In a bare statement with no hint of his reason, current chairman and presumptive Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Edolphus Towns, (D-NY) dropped his bid to remain in the leadership of the committee as ranking member on Tuesday.
The release from Towns’ office was two sentences:
Statement on behalf of Chairman Edolphus “Ed” Towns (D-NY) regarding the Ranking Member position on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee:
“After much thought, Chairman Towns today made the decision not to seek the Ranking Member position on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.”
Towns barely a month ago had been in a bare knuckles political brawl with Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who had questioned Towns´ ability to stand up to Rep. Daryl Issa (R-Calif.), the incoming chair of the committee.
Issa was widely considered to have run rings around Towns and there was early on a question if Towns was the right man for the job. However, support from the Congressional Black Caucus and the White House, and a personnel melt-down and allegations of racial problems within Kucinich’s office, meant that Towns was virtually assured of the job.
Kucinich had tried to leap frog three more senior members of the committee in order to get the leadership slot.
Kucinich announced the same day he was also dropping his bid and throwing his support behind Elijah Cummings, a power within the CBC and one of the more senior members he had previously tried to elbow out of the way:
“When I announced my candidacy for Ranking Member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, I did so out of concern for a strong Democratic response Chairman Issa. Even before I announced my candidacy, I made it clear to members across the caucus that I thought that Congressman Cummings would be able to meet the challenge, and that if he was a candidate, I would support him.
“My bid has never been about my own personal advancement. It has been about protecting the oversight process from abuse. Mr. Cummings is well prepared for the challenge. Tomorrow, I will recommend to the Steering and Policy Committee and to the Democratic Caucus that they choose Mr. Cummings as Ranking Member.
“I have accomplished what I have set out to do, and that is to make sure that Democrats will have a very strong hand in the oversight process,” said Kucinich.
Since then Cummings has secured the leadership position and is set to challenge Issa, saying he would try to keep Issa from going on “fishing expeditions” to embarrass Democrats.
“We’ll go toe to toe on everything and hopefully be 10 steps ahead,” he told Roll Call.
According to Roll Call, Towns claims the reason he stepped aside was pressure from current Speaker of the House and future Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
“I decided to withdraw my candidacy following a conversation with you when you made it clear that I did not have your support,” the New York Democrat said to Pelosi in a letter Wednesday.
Towns said in his letter he is reclaiming his seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee with “full seniority and all rights and privileges, including the grandfather clause which allows me to have a seat on both the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.”
He threw his support behind fellow NY Rep. Carolyn Maloney, rather than behind his fellow CBC member.
It must be noted the White House was not initially 100 percent behind Towns — until Kucinich, who has the reputation of a loose cannon, stepped up. Once it became clear that Kucinich didn’t have the votes to unseat Towns, someone appears to have felt it was time for Towns to step aside — despite the fact that less than a month ago 14 committee members, including Maloney and Cummings, had thrown their support behind Towns.
As previously noted, Cummings is a power within the CBC and is a liberal warrior, supporting such left-wing causes as the DREAM act and voting against banning late-term abortions.
Cummings also comes without Kucinich’s baggage — Kucinich is on record in a presidential debate saying he saw a UFO and has had several other public gaffes over the years.
Maloney is also a liberal’s liberal: like Cummings she voted against the partial-birth abortion ban, and for several other causes near and dear to the liberal heart — but is by all accounts more of a behind the scenes player than Cummings, known for bringing up issues which are not necessarily relevant — such as changes to the census which doesn’t take place for another 10 years.
Sources close to the committee said earlier this week that Maloney would have been the tougher challenge as ranking member.
“It’ll be interesting to see how Democrats do this and if they are shortsighted in making this decision,” sources told PJM Wednesday. “The reality is Cummings is ultimately there to be a presence on TV. If the situation were reversed and he were chair to our ranking member – that would be more problematic. But it’s not.
“Maloney actually poses more of a challenge for us in the majority (than) Cummings. Maloney knows this Committee and the issues we deal with inside and out. Maloney as Ranking Member very much forces us to look at how we’re structuring our side of things on a functional level. Cummings, frankly, does not. It would be different if he were Chair, but since he’s not and we have the gavel, he can be relegated to nothing more than vocal dissent. Maloney will actually do things every day that could cause us headaches. Functionally, the biggest headaches that impact our operation aren’t the ones that play out on TV. They’re policy, legislative and that’s Maloney’s wheel-house.”
All in all, Issa is in for a rougher road the next two years than had been expected with the more reasonable Towns in the position. After the internal battles for his position, Cummings is going to have to try to make a splash to convince skittish Democrats he was the right choice to take on the hard-nosed Issa.