The Congressional Black Caucus continues its battle to regain footing and influence in the wake of bruising midterm elections that will leave it without key Committee Chairmanships in the 112th Congress next year. After weeks of uncertainty and a mountain of speculation, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY) officially withdrew himself from consideration as Ranking Member of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee.
“After much thought, Chairman Towns today made the decision not to seek the ranking member position on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee,” said a statement released by Towns’ Congressional office.
It’s a move that contradicts earlier stands from weeks before when Towns insisted he would be taking on incoming Republican Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the vocal and ambitious California pol who is famously warning of face-offs with the Obama Administration.
Issa promises to conduct a number of almost Eliot Ness-like investigations into the White House’s inner workings and a number of issues stirring the Beltway pot. Democrats are worried that an assertive Issa could keep many government agencies locked up while he uses the Committee as a leveraging tool to pass key Republican legislation.
Towns had promised a spirited defense of the Administration as Ranking Member, at times using vernacular reminiscent of a Brooklyn brawl laced with political threats to characterize his response to Issa’s new role. But, there were lingering concerns from both House Democratic leaders and the White House that Towns would not be aggressive enough, citing previous issues where Issa appeared to best the low key New York Congressman.
That now leaves two CBC ranking members on powerful House Committees: Bennie Thompson (D-MS) on Homeland Security and founding Member John Conyers (D-MI) on Judiciary.
However, in the wake of Towns’ departure, there is a battle brewing for Government Oversight’s top Democratic spot as CBC colleague and Baltimore Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) has announced his intention to run for the spot. That could prove problematic since Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) is next in line behind Towns. That said, Cummings is considered one of the more bullish and vocal Members of the Democratic caucus, famous for his persistent questioning and brass knuckles exchanges with Republicans Members.
Cummings may end up being a favored choice for the Committee, but the CBC will have to make a tough decision: will they support Cummings, only a week after dismissing Rep. Chaka Fattah’s (D-PA) bid for ranking member on Appropriations? Or will they continue preserving the Democratic seniority system and maintain a party line behind Maloney?