In the year and a half that Donald Trump and fellow Republicans have dominated federal government, Southern California’s many Democratic members of Congress have felt like a gang that brought sticks to a knife fight.
That feeling soon could change. If Democrats win a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in the upcoming mid-terms, dozens will replace those imaginary sticks with very real gavels. Partisan politics in Washington, D.C., still might not be an even fight if Republicans continue to hold the Senate and White House, but taking charge of House committees would give Democrats a weapon.
The stakes for greater Los Angeles are dramatic: At least 10 of the 19 Democrats representing parts of L.A., Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties are in line for committee and subcommittee chairmanships if their party gains a majority. Four of the eight Republicans from these counties would lose committee or subcommittee chairmanships, not including two current panel chairmen who are retiring.
Combined with Linda Sanchez’s announced bid to lead the House Democratic Caucus — Adam Schiff also hasn’t ruled out running for a party leadership position — the committee chairmanships would enhance Southern California’s power on Capitol Hill.
“There will be plenty of time to talk about the leadership elections,” said Schiff, D-Burbank, speaking hypothetically about the aftermath of Democrats winning a House majority in the Nov. 6 elections.
“But much more important is taking the committee gavels that will allow us to put forward a positive agenda … and to do true oversight of this out-of-control administration.”
Knowing House members’ committee-chair aspirations can help voters to understand specifically what Democrats hope to achieve if they pick up the 23 seats they need to gain a majority of the chamber’s 435 seats for the first time since 2010.
Seats of power
Schiff would take over as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, putting him in a position to revive the lower chamber’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, an outspoken critic of the Trump administration, would lead Financial Services, the committee that oversees, among others, the securities and banking industries. As such, a Waters’ led Financial Services committee could investigate the financial connections between administration officials and the industries they oversee, as well as the president’s financial connections. In addition, she would urge the committee to look into the affordable housing crisis and its link to homelessness, two issues that plague Southern California.
For Waters, who turns 80 on Aug. 15 and is running for her 15th term, the promise of becoming chairwoman of a major House committee is powerful inducement to put off thoughts of retirement.
“Can you imagine what it takes to get to the point to be able to chair this committee, for a woman and an African American?” Waters said.
A third Southern California Democrat could become chairman of a full committee. Though Mark Takano, D-Riverside, currently is the No. 2 Democrat on Veterans’ Affairs, the ranking Democrat, Tim Walz, is running for governor in Minnesota. That means a Dem-controlled House would make Takano chair of a committee that could help improve veterans’ access to their GI benefits and investigate how some for-profit colleges bilk veterans.
In all, seven Southern Californians are ranking Democrats on subcommittees and would almost certainly step into chairmanships if the party wins control of the House, a prospect given a better than 60 percent chance by political bettors on PredictIt.org. (Bettors give Republicans a more than 70 percent chance of keeping control of the Senate.)