Shakeup on the House Oversight Committee?


Some Democrats want new leadership on the House Oversight panel, according to sources, as Republicans take over with subpoena power and a newfound ability to make the Obama administration's collective life miserable.

A movement is brewing to push aside current Chairman Ed Towns, the Brooklyn Democrat who has led the committee for the past two years, according to congressional aides, though it is unclear from these rumblings whether or not Towns's position is in any serious jeopardy.

"I think a lot of people are thinking it's a good idea to look beyond Towns for ranking member," one senior Democratic aide told me.

There is near-unanimous realization that Towns "isn't the guy to be ranking member," said one aide familiar with the committee.

With Democrats in the minority next year, the apparent concern is that the party needs a stronger presence atop the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to hit back at incoming GOP Chairman Darrell Issa, should he go on an anti-Obama-administration witch-hunt. (The Oversight Committee is the main congressional body responsible for overseeing the administration. As Democratic chairman under President Bush, Rep. Henry Waxman repeatedly subpoenaed the Republican administration for documents and personal testimony.) Issa will have twice the staff and resources as whoever serves as ranking member, though he has signaled that witch-hunts aren't his style, Issa being purportedly more interested in transparency measures.

Towns, for his part, is running to serve as ranking member again, and it's unclear how serious the threat to his leadership is. Towns has circulated a letter to fellow Democrats seeking their support for the position.

And he wants to come out swinging. Towns recently told the New York Daily News: "I come out of Brooklyn politics--I know how to fight. ... I will do what I have to do. ... I'll give him a little Bed-Stuy, a little Brownsville."

The full Democratic caucus will vote on who serves as ranking member of each committee next year. The vote is expected to happen after Thanksgiving.

If not Towns, then who? Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a fellow New Yorker, falls next in line in terns of seniority, but a spokesman said she supports Towns for the position.

Another contender could be Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings. Towns and Cummings are both Congressional Black Caucus members, and if Towns is pushed out, a Cummings replacement wouldn't weaken the CBC's power within the caucus. According to a spokesman, Towns is focused on what's happening in his district and in the Democratic leadership race, as Pelosi seeks to retain her leadership of the caucus. He does not seem interested in mounting an open bid.

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich seems to be another possibility, one who would potentially be more likely to run openly against Towns.

Towns's office could not immediately be reached for comment; I'll update this post if the congressman chooses to respond to such rumblings.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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