TOPICS > Politics

Waxman Ousts Dingell to Head House Energy Committee

November 20, 2008 at 6:30 PM EDT
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In a shift of Democratic leadership, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., defeated fellow Democrat John Dingell of Michigan in a vote amongst lawmakers over who should chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Kwame Holman reports on the move.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, House Democrats elect a new face to head up the Energy and Commerce Committee. NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman has our report.

KWAME HOLMAN: The House Democrats’ ouster of Michigan’s John Dingell as chair was viewed widely as an endorsement of more vigorous action on climate change and energy efficiency.

More than 250 Democrats voted narrowly to hand control of the key House committee to California’s Henry Waxman, an environmentalist and ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Waxman spoke after the vote.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), California: The prevailing view in the caucus and the argument we made was that we needed a change for the committee to have the leadership that will work with this administration and members in both the House and the Senate in order to get important issues passed in health care, environmental protection, in energy policy.

We are at a unique moment in history. We have an opportunity that maybe comes only once in a generation. And I think that the Democratic Caucus agreed with me that we must meet that challenge and move forward on those important policies.

KWAME HOLMAN: The change atop the committee could spell more trouble for the Detroit-based big three, who are in dire financial straits.

Executives from Ford, G.M., and Chrysler went before lawmakers yesterday to request $25 billion in emergency loans. Dingell long has tried to balance the interests of his auto-producing state and environmental policy, says Congress-watcher Norman Ornstein.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN, American Enterprise Institute: John Dingell is trying to get sensitive to the changes going on in the country, but his life has been spent revolving around the automobile industry and protecting the industry from the vicissitudes of policies like automobile mileage standards and things that would crimp fossil fuels.

KWAME HOLMAN: Dingell supporter and fellow Michigander Dale Kildee lamented the loss for the state and the industry.

REP. DALE KILDEE (D), Michigan: What does this do for Michigan? I would have preferred, of course, that John Dingell be re-elected, but the caucus has made its decision, and we’ll work now with Henry Waxman. And we’ll work well together with him.

KWAME HOLMAN: Outgoing Energy Chairman Dingell is 82. He was first elected to the House in 1955 and in February will become the longest-serving member in House history.

Over his nearly three decades as the top Democrat on the Energy Committee, Dingell also has advocated for coal-powered electric utilities and has been a key player on health issues.

Waxman, who is 69, has been the top Democrat on the Oversight and Government Reform committee for 12 years. As chairman for the last two years, he’s investigated the use of steroids in sports and allegations the Bush administration muzzled government scientists on global warming.

Ornstein said today’s move by congressional Democrats shows the growing influence of Speaker Pelosi, who despite staying publicly neutral in the chairman’s race, was seen as backing Waxman.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: In a lot of ways, for Speaker Pelosi, this was a win-win. She didn’t have to take a risk and a divisive position formally by endorsing either of their candidates, but the signal here is that it’s a blow to senior committee chairs and a boost for the speaker.

KWAME HOLMAN: Pelosi’s power in the 111th Congress will be bolstered even further by the new wave of Democrats elected earlier this month.