Committee Decisions Deliver Potential Setback To Female Lawmakers

12/16/2010 07:59 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Elise Foley Immigration And Politics Reporter, Huffington Post

WASHINGTON -- In what could be a blow to female lawmakers, Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) lost out in key Steering Committee votes on Thursday for ranking member positions in the next Congress.

Although committee memberships are not yet final, pending a final Democratic caucus vote, the news could bode poorly for Maloney, who was backed by feminist organizations and female lawmakers for the top Democrat spot on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Sanchez, who hopes to serve as the first female to lead Democrats on the Armed Services Committee.

Only three women serve in committee chairmanships in the current Congress, with Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) heading the Rules Committee, Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) as head of the Small Business Committee, and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif) leading the Standards of Official Conduct Committee. Of course, the current Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is a woman, complicating the picture.

In November's elections, a number of female lawmakers were defeated, which will cause the number of women in Congress to shrink for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Another prominent female lawmaker, Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), was passed over for head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in November when Speaker Nancy Pelosi chose Steve Israel.

"The Speaker made her choice," Jonathan Beeton, her spokesman, said in a statement. "The congresswoman looks forward to continuing her hard work to elect Democrats in the coming cycle."

Wasserman Schultz is set to take over as vice chair of the Steering Committee and will have an expanded role in the DCCC, even though she did not receive the chairmanship. Beeton told HuffPost the congresswoman will "play more of a role than she did last year" in the next session.

Still, a smaller set of committee positions means Wasserman Schultz may lose out on another key spot. Although she is currently head of the Appropriations Committee, she may be knocked off next session because other members have more seniority.

Beeton downplayed the possibility, but said she might seek a spot on the Judiciary Committee if she loses her seat on Appropriations. "It's not up to us and it hasn't been announced yet," he said. "Some people have stayed on even though they had less seniority."

Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) lost a vote in the Steering Committee on Thursday to serve as ranking member of the Oversight Committee, receiving 18 votes to Elijah Cummings' (D-Md.) 33. Cummings has since won in the caucus vote on Oversight.

Maloney, who is currently the second-ranking Democrat on the committee, had backing from top-ranking Democrat Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) and several female lawmakers. She also won a pledge of support from a group of prominent feminist organizations, including the Feminist Majority, National Organization for Women and the Women's Campaign Fund.

A spokeman for Maloney said she plans to continue her fight for the position with the full caucus.

The Armed Services Committee top spot is also yet to be determined, but the Steering Committee voted for Adam Smith (D-Wash.) over Sanchez by a five-vote margin.

The Democratic caucus voted for Adam Smith (D-Wash.) to take the Armed Services top spot over Sanchez on Thursday evening.