Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Congressional Shifts on Capitol Hill

When Democrats lost seats in the 2002 midterm congressional election, then House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt quietly decided not to run for re-election for that position.

With Republicans losing House seats in both 2006 and 2008, expect GOP members to push for changes to their leadership. That could mean the ouster of House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, or GOP Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo. Possible replacement candidates include Reps. Paul Ryan, 38, R-Wisc. and Eric Cantor, 45, R-Va., both lawmakers that led a high profile ultimately unsuccessful effort to topple Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s $700 billion government purchase plan. According to Darryl Nirenberg, deputy chair in Patton Boggs public policy department, Cantor and Ryan may see the losses in their party as an opportunity to step up. The Republican study committee, a conservative caucus within the Republican party, now has a strengthened position for GOP lawmakers, Nirenberg contends. Previous members Tom Delay and Richard Cheney have gone on to strong positions within the Republican party. Opposition to Paulson’s package emerged from this committee.

One glimmer of positive news for Republicans was the re-election of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. McConnell understands the intricacies of the parliamentary rules on Capitol Hill and legislative observers expect that he is best positioned to protect GOP interests in the Senate. His ouster would likely have meant the installation of the less experienced Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, to the position.

On the Democratic side, look for Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., to remain chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, a panel that will be at the center of restructuring on Capitol Hill. Less likely is for Dodd to decide to be chair of the prestigious Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where vice president-elect Joe Biden is leaving a vacancy. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, may take over the Senate Appropriations Committee (after the ouster of Sen. Robert Byrd, D-Va.) leaving the position of Senate Commerce Committee chairman to John Rockefeller, D- WV. All this may leave Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY., as chair of the prestigious and powerful Senate Rules Committee.

As far as Obama’s administration. Expect quick movement. According to the Washington Post, Rahm Emanuel is deciding whether he wants to be President-Elect Barack Obama’s chief of staff. Rahm may choose to stay on in Congress where he could one day replace House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Once Obama’s chief of staff is chosen, expect his White House staff and cabinet officials to be chosen quickly, in the next couple weeks.

Key cabinet official appointments should be made before Thanksgiving. The choice of Treasury Secretary, arguable the most important cabinet level job, should go to either New York Federal Reserve Bank President Timothy Geithner or New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, at least according to Stan Collender, managing director at Qorvis Communications in Washington. Larry Summers, a former Treasury Secretary during the Clinton Administration, is also in the running. -- Ron Orol

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