Two key members of “The Squad” — progressive freshman Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) — are trying to recruit liberal Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) to run for Oversight Committee chairman, a move that would scramble an already crowded race to head one of the panels leading the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
Sources familiar with the conversations said Raskin had no plans to run to succeed the panel’s previous chairman, the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, a fellow Maryland Democrat who died last week at the age of 68.
But Raskin, 56, has told Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib he will give it “serious reflection,” the sources told The Hill on Tuesday.
The congresswomen — who said they represent a contingent of young lawmakers hungry for change on the powerful panel — told Raskin they wanted a liberal firebrand who would undertake “strong and aggressive” oversight of the Trump administration.
Three members of “The Squad” — Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) — serve on the Oversight panel. The fourth, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), does not but she called Raskin one of her “favorite” colleagues and said she could back him for chairman.
Raskin “would be a true leader when it comes to holding this Trump administration accountable and especially a leader on this impeachment inquiry,” Tlaib told The Hill in a brief interview before stepping into a closed-door impeachment hearing.
“It would be incredible at this time, with the actions being taken by this administration, to have a constitutional law professor lead the fight in the House Oversight Committee.”
A top Democratic leader described Raskin as extremely smart and talented, but described his longshot victory in the battle for the Oversight post as “unlikely but not impossible.”
Raskin’s possible entry in the race would pit a rising-star, sophomore lawmaker against a quartet of older, more senior lawmakers who are running or expected to run for the top Oversight job.
Reps. Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.), 73, Stephen Lynch (Mass), 64, Gerry Connolly (Va.), 69, and Jackie Speier (Calif.), 69, have all started calling and buttonholing fellow Oversight members and members of the influential Steering Committee, which eventually will make a recommendation to the full caucus about who should fill the job on a permanent basis.
Maloney, who is the most senior member on the panel, is currently serving as acting chair and has told colleagues she will seek the permanent role. And both Speier and Lynch have publicly stated they are running.
Connolly has not officially declared, saying he wanted to delay his decision out of respect for Cummings. But he privately began informing colleagues this week he intends to jump into the race very soon.
“I’m taking soundings,” Connolly told The Hill on Tuesday. “What I mean by that is I’m talking to leadership, talking to Steering Committee members, talking to colleagues on the committee and off the committee.”
When told that Democratic colleagues believe he will run, Connolly replied: “They are certainly not wrong about my passion for the race and my desire to make my contribution at a time that is very critical for the country.”
Oversight is one of three committees leading the impeachment investigation into Trump – along with Intelligence and Foreign Affairs – and some Democrats have suggested that a more polished communicator like Speier or Connolly, who are both a frequent presence on cable news shows, would be a stronger chair for a high-stakes moment in politics.
Raskin, too, is a respected communicator and frequent guest on MSNBC. The former American University constitutional law professor has also been a sherpa of sorts for House Democrats navigating constitutional issues, including impeachment and the Emoluments Clause.
But Maloney appears to have the backing of the powerful Congressional Black Caucus. While the 53-member CBC has not formally endorsed Maloney, many of its members have said they are backing the 14-term New York congresswoman because she is the most senior member.
“I always value seniority and I’m going to continue to support seniority,” said Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), a CBC member. “Because in the long run, seniority benefits all of us, including CBC members.”
After Maloney, the most senior members of the committee are two veteran African American lawmakers: Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), neither of whom are running this time around.
However, some Democrats pointed out that it was Cummings who beat out a more senior Maloney in the race to lead the Oversight panel back in 2010. The CBC backed Cummings in that contest.
The Oversight vacancy created by Cummings’s death will be filled permanently during the second week of November after a two-week congressional recess, said Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), the Democratic caucus vice chair.
The Speaker-aligned Steering Committee, which includes members of leadership and regional representatives, will hear from the candidates first and make a recommendation to the full Democratic caucus. Those 234 Democrats will then vote on whether or not to accept the recommendation.
Lynch, who chairs Oversight’s National Security subcommittee, touted his background as a former attorney in his pitch for the gavel.
“I’m an attorney, so I’m familiar with multi-party and complex litigation. That’s sort of what we’ve got going on between us and the White House and State Department and the courts,” Lynch said. “So I think I can help a great deal in that respect.”
While some Democrats are emphasizing seniority, others are arguing that diversity should be a factor. If Lynch or Connolly are selected, these Democrats said, that will mean there will be four white male committee chairmen leading the impeachment probe of Trump. The others are Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).
“I think Jackie would be stronger for this moment because she is a good communicator and sits on the Intelligence Committee too,” said one House Democrat, “but Maloney may be better for the long haul because of her experience.”
– Cristina Marcos contributed