Congress

Carolyn Maloney to be acting chairwoman of Oversight panel as succession sorted out

Several Democrats likely to vie for gavel of high-profile committee

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., will serve as acting chairwoman of the Oversight and Reform Committee after the death of Elijah E. Cummings. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Carolyn Maloney will serve as acting chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform after Chairman Elijah E. Cummings died Thursday, with House Democrats choosing a formal replacement for Cummings at “a later time,” a senior Democratic leadership aide told CQ Roll Call.

The next leader of the committee will step into a bright spotlight, with the panel conducting multiple investigations into President Donald Trump and his administration and playing a key role in the impeachment process headed by Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff.

With emotions still raw, some of the members whose names have emerged as Oversight chair candidates declined to comment about the succession plan.

“Right now, I’m just grieving the loss of my friend, Elijah Cummings. We spoke recently. I’m very, very sad,” Maloney said when asked about taking the gavel in an acting capacity.

“We’ll talk tomorrow,” she added in passing, suggesting that Democrats will officially announce her new role then.

The new chairman or chairwoman will also have big shoes to fill, as Cummings was one of the most popular members in the chamber from either party.

“Elijah was our North Star,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Thursday. “He was a leader of towering character and integrity, whose stirring voice and steadfast values pushed the Congress and country to rise always to a higher purpose,” she said.

Early names circulating among Democrats to fill the committee post in an acting capacity include Maloney, and Reps. William Lacy Clay of Missouri, Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts and Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia.

Maloney, a New York Democrat who also serves as the vice chairwoman of the Joint Economic Committee, had seniority over Cummings when Democrats took control of the House after the 2018 midterm elections.

But Cummings’ extensive work on the Oversight panel and status as ranking member since 2010 — when he beat Maloney in a caucus-wide vote — gave him the inside track to take the gavel in January.

Clay declined to speculate for now on whether he would seek the gavel. “I think it’s too soon,” the Missouri Democrat said. “We need to keep Elijah’s family [and his memory] in our prayer.”

Connolly similarly did not want to discuss succession. “I’m not going to get into that. Today is a day for Elijah Cummings. I’m not going to discuss what happens. I mean, we’re kind of absorbed with loss, which is a great loss,” he said.

The House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee will meet with potential candidates over the coming days to recommend a replacement. 

Led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut along with California Reps. Eric Swalwell and Barbara Lee, the committee of House Democrats makes recommendations to the full caucus regarding chairmanships — though the caucus is not bound by their recommendations.

The steering panel usually considers seniority, effects on diversity of caucus leadership and engagement on committee-specific issues when handing down recommendations.

Maloney is followed in seniority by Eleanor Holmes Norton, the delegate representing the District of Columbia.

Clay, who is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Lynch, who leads the Oversight Subcommittee on National Security, are next in line in tenure.

Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, who served in the House from 1983 through 1995 and again from 2003 to the present, follows Lynch in committee seniority.

But it’s Connolly who, aside from Cummings, has been the most active member on the committee over the last several years. The Virginia Democrat has often acted as a bridge between senior committee members and pugnacious Democratic newbies such as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts.

Connolly, first elected to the House in 2008, was Cummings’ vice ranking member in the last Congress and since 2013 has been the top Democrat on the Oversight Subcommittee on Government Operations, the subcommittee with the most sweeping investigative reach.

Connolly has an expansive network of executive branch contacts at his disposal: Thousands of his constituents in Northern Virginia’s 11th District are federal employees. 

He was an aide to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for most of the 1980s and has been interacting with agencies, businesses and workers in the Washington region for decades. Connolly's extensive knowledge of government operations and his Virginia district's impact on the federal government stem from his 14 years on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, including five years as chairman. 

Connolly has a solid reputation on Capitol Hill: genial to his colleagues on both sides of the aisle in personal exchanges, yet capable of dialing up the tenacity in high-profile hearings and interviews on dicey political topics.

Whoever takes over for Cummings will have a game rhetorical adversary in ranking member Jim Jordan of Ohio, founder of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus and one of Trump’s staunchest defenders in Washington.

Jordan saluted Cummings on Thursday as a “man of great consequence and significance” on the oversight panel for more than two decades. “He injected an unyielding passion and purpose into his work on the Committee,” Jordan said.

Niels Lesniewski, Lindsey McPherson and Jim Saska contributed to this report.

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