Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) wasted no time this week announcing a bid to lead the Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee next year — a seat that’s soon to open up following Tuesday’s primary defeat of the current chair, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).
Connolly, who would enter his eighth term next year, is currently fourth in line behind Maloney on the powerful committee. He’s making the case that his long experience on the panel fighting to protect government institutions, like the Postal Service, and defend federal employees — a significant constituency in his Northern Virginia district — make him the best fit for the job.
“For more than fourteen years, I have made this Committee my top priority and focused on the issues that define it: Postal reform; defending our proud federal employees; rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse; modernizing the federal government; and holding the Trump administration accountable,” he said Wednesday morning in a statement.
Maloney on Tuesday lost a contentious primary to Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), a contest that pitted two powerful committee chairs — Nadler leads the Judiciary Committee — who have represented portions of Manhattan for decades against each other.
To win the seat, Connolly would have to leapfrog more senior members of the committee: Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.). A third lawmaker ranked higher than Connolly, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), is retiring at the end of the term.
The offices of Norton and Lynch did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.
Unlike the Republicans, Democrats tend to favor more veteran members when it comes to filling the top seat on committees. Still, seniority provides no guarantee of winning a gavel. Indeed, the late Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) took over the top spot on the Oversight and Reform Committee in 2011 by hopping over a more veteran Democrat.
Maloney got the Oversight gavel in 2019, following Cummings’s death at the age of 68. At the time, House Democrats were in the midst of impeaching then-President Trump for the first time, and Democratic leaders, behind Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), took pains to fill the vacancy without a protracted internal fight. Although Connolly and Lynch had both expressed interest, Maloney, as second in line, secured the spot.
This year’s contest might be more spirited. With Democrats expected to lose control of the House in November’s midterm elections — and Republicans vowing to use the Oversight panel to launch numerous investigations into the Biden administration — the ranking member position will provide a high-profile perch for a Democrat to cut a national profile defending the party’s White House ally.
Connolly, who has been among the most outspoken critics of Trump’s role in last year’s attack on the U.S. Capitol, maintains that he’s already proven his mettle in that arena.
“We need a tested leader who will not be timid in the face of Republican insurrectionists. One who has a deep understanding of the issues facing our Committee and our country. A collaborator who can be a bridge to our talented and diverse caucus,” he said. “I believe I can be that leader, and look forward to earning the support of my colleagues.”