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Leadership opportunities emerge for Democrat members of Florida’s congressional delegation

The congressional private power dancing has begun.

Where will U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Darren Soto, Ted Deutch, Charlie Crist, Alcee Hastings, Stephanie Murphy, and Florida’s other House Democrats wind up sitting now that their party is taking power?

Quietly, now and over the next few weeks, Florida’s Democratic representatives are declaring and testing their ambitions for the Democratic-controlled U.S. House. It’s already time to start seeking, angling for, and pursuing new committee assignments.

In the current GOP-controlled House, Florida Republicans haven’t exactly been power players. None chaired any full House committees, and only a handful were sprinkled into major committees such as Ways and Means, Rules, Budget, or Appropriations. And their moment has closed now.

That dearth of Florida power in Congress might not change too much with the Democrats because only one Florida representative is the ranking member on any of the 21 U.S. House Committees, and it’s not a powerful committee either.

But a handful of Florida Democrats are on powerful and high-profile committees, notably Wasserman Schultz on both the Appropriations and Budget committees, and Crist on the Financial Services Committee. Now they’ll have far more opportunity to press their wills.

Committee appointments won’t come until January — after the Democrats sort out who their House Speaker will be, whether that’s current Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi or some still-unidentified champion of the insurgency against her. Naturally, she’ll have her say. Officially, the appointments will be recommended by a Democratic Caucus steering committee and voted on by the full caucus.

So now’s the time members start making their interests known, lobbying each other, and cutting deals with Pelosi and others, often quietly. There is a bit of inner-state coordination, so that Florida’s delegation is trying to help shape opportunities for its members, to better the chances that Florida gets representation wherever is best for the state. Some of the moves are being discussed.

For example, Soto of Kissimmee, with deep environmental interests, reportedly is looking at the Energy and Commerce Committee; and Murphy of Winter Park, who has been outspoken about House reform, is being talked about as a possible candidate for the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Only a handful are sure things or close to it.

Deutch of Boca Raton is ranking member of the House Ethics Committee. So the chair is his if he wants it.

Hastings of Miramar is the senior Democrat on the House Rules Committee, though technically he’s not the ranking member. If he wants, Hastings could put up a compelling case to chair that committee instead of ranking member James McGovern of Massachusetts.

Then there are subcommittees.

Deutch also is ranking member on the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee; U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee is ranking member of the Small Business Committee’s Health and Technology Subcommittee; Murphy is ranking member of the Small Business Committee’s Contracting and Workforce Subcommittee; and Hastings is ranking member of the Rules Committee’s Legislative and Budget Process Subcommittee.

But those subcommittees are at high risk of being totally reorganized, discarded, replaced, or a least redefined. And the new appointments of members pick their chairs from among themselves. So ranking membership is no assurance to a promotion.

Not only is it a complex campaign to win the big seats, but it’s also sometimes a tough personal choice.

The Ways and Means Committee is an exclusive committee. So if Murphy were to get a seat there, that would mean she would have to give up her cherished seats on the Armed Services and Small Business committees. It’s a tough choice, but it’s a big step up.

The Energy and Commerce Committee also is an exclusive committee. So if Soto were to get that appointment, he would have to leave the Agriculture and Natural Resources committees he sits on now. It also means losing his seat on the Naural Resources’ Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee, which provides him oversight of the federal government’s role in Puerto Rico, a big deal back in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

Among other current key committee assignments for Democrats, where they can expect at least to have power over legislation before them:

U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando, the city’s former police chief, already has natural fits on the House Judiciary and Homeland Security committees. She may be advised to build her natural power there.

Crist also is on the Financial Services Committee’s Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee, which could give him a ringside seat if that committee launches an investigation into the White House’s and President Donald Trump‘s potential involvements in the Russia elections meddling scandal.

Crist also is the only Democrat who is a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, and its Space Subcommittee, key seats in addressing federal policy and financial support for Kennedy Space Center. There are three Florida Republicans on that committee, U.S. Reps. Neal Dunn of Panama City, Bill Posey of Rockledge and Dan Webster of Clermont, but probably not for long. So Florida’s delegation may be due for sending another Democrat to oversee space policy.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa is on the Energy and Commerce Committee, an exclusive and desirable committee.

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach is on the Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has the potential to rain dollars back home.

Deutch also is on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees, two plum assignments.

Wasserman Schultz of Weston is nowhere near a ranking member on either the Budget or Appropriations committees, but she has clout, especially with a close philosophical relationship with Pelosi. So she could expect to be a power on both of those boards.

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens is on the Education and Workforce Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also two enviable seats.

Florida’s two new Democratic congresswomen, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala, will have to wait until all the returning Democrats finish their games of musical seats before they’ll be offered their committee assignments.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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