Dec 14, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Dems' star-power strategy

Jamie Raskin

Raskin speaks to U.S. Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger during a ceremony to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Capitol Police. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Democrats are on the cusp of picking one of their highest-profile members, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), to lead their defense against Republican investigations on the House Oversight Committee.

Why it matters: The media-savvy Jan. 6 committee member and former Trump impeachment manager would be leapfrogging two more senior members for the role — a significant shakeup to kick off a new generation of House Democratic leadership.

  • Raskin's status as the favorite underscores the Oversight Committee's transformation from a relatively low-key panel to a plum assignment that leads congressional probes and drives considerable media coverage.
  • The outgoing chair, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), was picked for her seniority. But the 76-year-old’s performance atop the panel left some Democrats seeking a more dynamic replacement to spar with Republicans.

Driving the news: Raskin received 30 votes at a meeting of Democrats' Steering Committee on Wednesday, beating Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly (19 votes) and Massachusetts Rep. Stephen Lynch (7 votes), according to multiple sources in the room.

Yes, but: The position still has to be approved by a vote of the full caucus, which Raskin himself acknowledges is not just a rubber stamp.

  • "It's just the first step in the process," Raskin told Axios when asked for his reaction to the steering vote.

The big picture: The resounding support for Raskin follows grumbling from some Democrats about panels like Oversight and Judiciary — where impeachments begin — being led by older members with less vitality than their Republican counterparts, who are subject to term limits.

  • Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the incoming chair, was first elected in 2016, the same year as Raskin.
  • The Oversight Committee's members include some of the highest-profile members of the progressive "Squad" and the right-wing House Freedom Caucus — groups known for their ability to attract media attention.

What they're saying: Several Steering Committee members who spoke to Axios attributed the lopsided vote to Raskin's national reputation.

  • "Mr. Raskin, in the last couple of years, has been very much the face of the party, and very much willing to engage Republicans in a very effective way," said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), co-chair of the Steering Committee.
  • Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) chalked the result up to Raskin being "so high-profile when it comes to oversight ... such a powerful voice, nationally."
  • A Democratic aide put it more bluntly: "He's famous and popular!"

Raskin told Axios: "We're still in the thick of the fight with Trump and all the forces he's unleashed against us, and so I'm running to continue the work that has consumed my time since I got here."

The other side: Backers of other candidates argue that Raskin's fame shouldn't overshadow his rivals' investigative chops or pugnaciousness.

  • Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), a top Connelly backer, said of his fellow Northern Virginian: "Gerry's been a bulldog on that committee since January 2009. He's very seasoned ... a strong arguer, very eloquent and articulate, and he'll fight like crazy."
  • "When you get Comer and the Republicans, and maybe Marjorie Taylor Greene ... and Paul Gosar on that committee, you need someone like Gerry Connolly," Beyer added.

What to watch: Democrats will have new members in the top three leadership positions for the first time in 15 years after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her two deputies stepped aside last month.

  • But members are also pushing back on too much change too fast, overwhelmingly voting to reject a proposal that would've required the caucus to vote on a waiver to allow committee leaders to serve more than six years.
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