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The Battle for Energy and Commerce

By Al Kamen
An intense intraparty battle between Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) for the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is taking on the trappings of a traditional political battle, complete with letter-writing campaigns.

It's been dubbed "the Clash of the Titans": The Michigan Democratic Party last week sent an urgent appeal to its statewide e-mail list urging people to write a letter or sign a petition to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to support the 82-year-old Dingell's effort to fend off a challenge from Waxman, the 69-year-old chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee.

"The attempt to unseat the Chairman is not only an attack on his position but on the working families and citizens he has fought to protect," the state party wrote, adding that Dingell had "been the driving force behind groundbreaking progress on everything from environmental protection to health care access to the auto industry."

The petition to Pelosi first took the high road, noting that President-elect Barack Obama relied on a broad coalition for his victory and "we should be uniting, not dividing the House caucus." Then it got a bit rougher: "It is adding insult to injury for you to allow the dean of the Congress ... to be removed at this crucial time. I appeal to you to stand up against this injustice."

The first test will come Wednesday, when the four-dozen-member Democratic House Steering and Policy Committee meets and votes on a slate of committee chairs and members to present to the full Democratic caucus on Thursday.

The committee is generally seen as a tool of the leadership -- meaning Pelosi. If the committee puts Waxman on its list for Thursday's vote, the caucus will see that as Pelosi putting her imprimatur -- and prestige -- behind the move to unseat Dingell.

Stay tuned ...

By Web Politics Editor  |  November 17, 2008; 3:09 PM ET
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In response to Mitch22, that is a good point. Henry Waxman has done an excellent job as Chairman of the Oversight Committee. There is plenty of important work for him to do in that position. Speculation is that he would move over to Chair Energy and Commerce because it will be a more prestigous committee to chair, with all of the climate change legislation and other environmental legislation that will come to the forefront during the Obama administration. I don't hold a cynical enough viewpoint to believe that, but there are arguments to be made about that being his justification.

Now, I will say that I believe John Dingell deserves to keep his Chairmanship of this committee. He has done great work fighting to pass the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act, as well as numerous other pieces of valuable environmental legislation. Additionally, his work for universal health care is to be commended. With all of the hard work John Dingell has done on that cause, he deserves to be there when it finally gets implemented.

Many people criticize John Dingell's ties to the automotive industry. However, this is an industry that employs 1 out of every 10 people in this country (or more, depending on what numbers you're looking at). It is also an industry whose biggest companies are all staring down bankruptcy, which would cause thousands of people to lose their jobs. Effective climate change legislation must be passed, but it must be passed in such a form that automotive companies are able to work with it. If they are unable to comply, then they will collapse. The effects of that will be catastrophic. John Dingell recognizes this reality, and is ready to get the right legislation passed.

Posted by: UMDEM2011 | November 17, 2008 10:47 PM | Report abuse

Dingell has been a toady for the auto industry for decades, blocking energy reform at every opportunity. Now are we to entrust him with the #1 priority of the Obama agenda? No friggin way. The old coot has got to go.

Posted by: Pupster | November 17, 2008 9:42 PM | Report abuse

Can we back up for a minute here? There seems to be a piece missing from this story. I thought you could only hold one full cmte. chairmanship at a time, which would mean that Waxman is prepared to let go of his chair of the Oversight Committee where he has done some really good work. Is this true? Why would he give that up? Who would be next in line there?

Posted by: Mitch22 | November 17, 2008 8:03 PM | Report abuse

Chairman Dingell has been in Congress, and chaired the E&C Committee, too long. Yes, he still can ask witnesses withering questions with his, "I would note ...." And he has a top notch staff. But we do need some new committee leadership. The chairman should step aside.

Posted by: bobsdcaob | November 17, 2008 7:20 PM | Report abuse

This is part of the problem. Mr. Dingle is under the impression that ALL of his constituents are auto makers. I live in Michigan too and I seem to care a lot more about the environment then Mr. Dingle does. He's been working this job for about 30 years and he hasn't felt the need for mpg efficiency yet. If he had, we'd have more auto sales right now. Maybe we need to try a new face.

Posted by: karela | November 17, 2008 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Mr Dingell is part of the problem. His relationship with the auto industry is problematic. That said Mr Waxman is a showman but does he have content? I do not know.

Posted by: Gator-ron | November 17, 2008 4:37 PM | Report abuse

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