As has been covered here at RedState, the House Democrat Caucus is in the process of assigning members to Committee seats, a process that is carried out by the House Steering Committee. The Democrat Party loves to spend money, so the Committees that have the most influence over spending tend to be highly sought after assignments. In the House, that generally means the Appropriations, Ways and Means, and the Energy and Commerce Committees.
My colleague Streiff covered the story that broke last Friday night about AOC — expecting to get a seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee — but losing her bid to another New Yorker who made a late bid for the same seat, Rep. Kathleen Rice from Long Island. It wasn’t surprising that another House Democrat would want that seat given the influence the Energy and Commerce Committee has over massive amounts of the economy. But what was surprising was that Rep. Rice would be that other House Member and that she would win the vote of the House Steering Committee members by an astounding 46-13 vote.
The seat was “reserved” for a member of the New York delegation because another member of the New York delegation, Eliot Engel, had held that seat before losing his re-election bid. Engel was a 16 term member of Congress, and in 2018 had become the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. But Rep. Rice had voted against Nancy Pelosi being Speaker in 2018, was from Long Island, not New York City, and AOC had been given the “nod” for the seat by the senior member of the New York delegation, Jerry Nadler.
But as Streiff noted in his story, a meeting of the Steering Committee included a series of statements being made against adding AOC to the Committee, with Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar leading the way.
Cuellar is considered among the most conservative members left in the Democrat House Caucus, is aligned with oil and gas interests in Texas, and regularly votes against the Democrat Caucus on energy-related issues. Because of that, he faced a primary challenge earlier this year from a young female socialist who was supported by AOC and her “Green New Deal” allies in the House. Cuellar made it clear that his views were greatly influenced by AOC’s willingness to sponsor challenges to other Democrats who weren’t sufficiently ideologically “pure” for her tastes.
To make matters even more embarrassing for AOC, Rep. Rice was a Republican prior to 2005, had been both a state and federal prosecutor, and the elected District Attorney of Nassau County. She ran on her “law and order” background in defeating the 31 year incumbent for that position. As a Democrat, she’s about as far as a Democrat can get from AOC inside the caucus. Yet she won the intra-party vote 46-13.
But there was another angle here that was also likely to have played a significant role.
Former Rep. Engel — whose seat was sought by AOC — was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1988. But he had been a member of the New York State Assembly for 11 years before that — giving him 43 years of service to the Democrat Party of New York.
Yet when he lost his re-election bid in 2020, it was not in the general election — he lost to a challenger in the Democrat primary, Bronx middle school principal Jamaal Bowman.
Bowman had been recruited to make a primary challenge to Engel by Justice Democrats, a socialist political action committee formed by, among others, Saikat Chakrabarti. For those not “up” on their Democrat “inside politics”, Chakrabarti was the creator of AOC. He was a 33-year-old tech multi-millionaire entrepreneur from Silicon Valley who moved to Washington DC in 2015 to work on Bernie Sanders’ Presidential Campaign. In the 2018 election cycle, he funded much of AOC’s first campaign through a variety of PACs and LLC’s he created as a dodge to campaign finance laws. He served as her campaign manager and was later her Chief of Staff after she was elected. AOC endorsed Bowman in his primary challenge to Engel.
So, it would be fair to say that AOC played a large role in creating the opening on the Energy and Commerce Committee by working to defeat the fellow Democrat that held the seat. Giving her Engel’s committee seat would have been tantamount to rewarding her for working against the interests of other members of the caucus.
But AOC wasn’t the only “shot fired” by the Steering Committee members at the radical socialists. Former Democrat Rep. Ben Ray Lujan was also on the Energy and Commerce Committee, but he was just elected to the Senate seat in New Mexico, giving Democrats another vacant seat to fill. it was expected that Texas Rep. Sylvia Garcia — first elected in 2018 as one of the wave of Progressive/Socialists in the House — would get the seat, but the Steering Committee ended up giving it to Texas Rep. Lizzie Fletcher instead.
Fletcher was another first-time winner in 2018, having flipped a seat in the Houston area previously held by the GOP. Fletcher was the candidate supported by the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee and won the primary over a Bernie Sanders-backed socialist candidate. When she won the general election, she broke a 52-year hold on the district by the GOP.
But in her first two years in office, Fletcher made enemies in the organized labor movement to such a degree that the Texas AFL-CIO refused to endorse her for re-election. She won the district again but is considered one of the more moderate members of the Caucus, while at the same time being on the “outs” with Organized Labor.
But the Steering Committee gave Fletcher the coveted seat on Energy and Commerce and not the more Progressive Garcia. That was another blow to the “Green New Deal”.
One more note about AOC’s loss. One of the members of the Steering Committee who spoke in favor of Rep. Rice — who had opposed Nancy Pelosi for Speaker in 2018 — was New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, currently the Chair of the House Democrat Caucus, the No. 4 Leadership position in the Democrat Party.
I wrote here several weeks ago in this story that if Nancy Pelosi was going to face a challenge to her position as Speaker, that challenge would likely come from Rep. Jeffries.
With his advocacy against AOC, he broke ranks with the Senior member of the New York delegation — Nadler — who supported AOC. Pelosi, by informing the Caucus this would be her last term as Speaker, is now a “lame duck” and members have nothing to fear from breaking with her.
His advocacy against AOC and in favor of Rice, and the huge support of the Steering Committee members to follow his lead, might be the biggest story of the whole affair.
Too bad for Jeffries that Pelosi and her cohorts have probably tanked the Democrat Party in the House for the next decade or more after redistricting, and the best he’s likely to do is be the House Minority Leader once she’s gone.