Kucinich or Cummings for Oversight

I said most of what I’m going to say about the Waxman-Dingell fight in this post (though I will reiterate my concern that Waxman–who will now be in charge of shepherding healthcare through the House–has said almost nothing about it thus far).

Except that, now that Waxman has won, I think it crucially important that we find someone very effective to replace Waxman at Oversight. Waxman leaves some important unfinished business at oversight, including his investigation into the White House emails, the Bush Administration’s lackadaisical policy towards leakers (including Scooter Libby), and recent oversight into the financial crash. Furthermore, Darrell Issa is by most accounts set to take over as Ranking Member on Oversight. Oversight is one committee where the Ranking Member has the means to be a real pain in the arse, and Issa is a bigger pain in the arse–and more effective–than most Republicans. Finally, I don’t want to make the mistake the Republicans made; I want someone to exercise real oversight over the Obama Administration. For all these reasons, we need a real leader replacing Waxman at Oversight.

I recommend either Dennis Kucinich or Elijah Cummings.

The senior member on Oversight, after Waxman, is Edolphous Towns. I don’t know all that much about Towns–though I find it telling that, as someone who watches a great deal of Oversight’s hearings, I’ve almost never seen him contribute substantively (for that matter, I rarely see him, at all, at full committee hearings). That, plus he’s the recipient of some big love from the Pharma/Health Care and Finance industries–two industies that must remain targets of oversight.

Kucinich and Cummings are both relatively senior members of the Committee. And both have proven to be the kinds of effective 

Kucinich currently serves (opposite Issa) as Chair of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee (and many of the most critical oversight issues in the next Congress will be domestic ones). And his work on impeachment shows that his staffers have the ability to do great work and Kucinich has the ability to deliver them. Plus, he’s the perfect kind of gadfly to keep our new President honest. I suspect that Kucinich would have a tough time getting the votes in a straight fight, but if there are multiple candidates, he’d have a shot.

Cummings would probably fare better than Kucinich in a head to head fight (and having one African American take this seat from another African American would limit the sensitivity on the CBC, which worries that the Dingell loss represents a challenge to seniority and therefore to the chairmanships of other CBC members). And he is relentless in hearings at insisting on Congressional oversight–as his attack on chumps above makes clear.

I’m trying to suss out who is bidding for this position. But in the meantime, I think that both Kucinich and Cummings would make excellent choices for the job.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

33 replies
  1. CTuttle says:

    Sorry to go OT, EW, but… Senators reach compromise on emergency auto loans: report

    A bipartisan group of auto-state senators say they have reached a compromise to speed emergency loans to Detroit’s Big Three car makers, the Associated Press reported Thursday. Republicans and Democrats plan to present the proposal at a mid-afternoon news conference Thursday but it was not clear whether the compromise plan could draw enough support to get through the Senate, the news agency said.

  2. JEP07 says:

    That’s quite a pair you’re offering.. and quite a contrast in styles.

    Kucinich the wiry firebrand, Cummings the solid, relentless rock.

    I’d vote Kucinich just for the guaranteed fireworks and the sheer doggedness he would use to approach oversight.

    But Cummings is so psychologically subtle, so eloquent and smooth, he might actually accomplish more.

    • MadDog says:

      But Cummings is so psychologically subtle, so eloquent and smooth, he might actually accomplish more.

      Cummings would get my vote…if I had one.

        • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

          Cummings appears to have far more ‘gravitas’ and that still counts for something.

          Gadflys have their purpose and place, but negative views of Kucinich (as rather eccentric, a bit of a windmill-tilter) would affect attitudes toward the committee as a whole; that’s simply human nature. Kucinich can continue to saw away, but ‘gadfly’ is not a skill set best suited to navigating a committee through what are guaranteed to be complex, quite emotionally heated issues that require some action.

          • LabDancer says:

            A good part of me agrees with that, and another part thinks its not at all clear that someone who comes across like something of a loose cannon without a chair will necessarily act like one with a chair.

            But here’s the thing: talk to the folks in Cleveland, and they’ll tell you Kucinich has always gotten a bad rap and always won the day. For example, the gadfly thing: Is it loony to stand up in the House and read out a list of possible criminal charges against the most obviously criminal executive leadership since the Teapot Dome scandal? Is it loony to then react to the only rational complaints from one’s party leaders that the list is too unfocused to then go back and carve the list down to the absolutely proveable and then read that out to the House?

            Or is that what’s called unusual clarity, and courage.

            And if we’re only going on appearances, it’s not as if the fellow currently in the chair looks like Jack Armstrong All-American boy.

            Kucinich looks a little funny; so does Waxman; so does Frank; so does Obama – those ears!

            Don’t get me wrong on Cummings – I’m a big fan; he’s kind of Arthur on Law and Order if Fred wasn’t doing it, but better and more effective and on most impressions far more authentic. However, I think he’d be way more appropriate charing a more narrowly focussed committee given a same party president.

            Meanwhile, Kucinich has a long history of exercising laser like concentration on a host of issues. Even on the UFO question, he dared to ’seem’ crazy, but his position is quite sane. “Do you believe in UFO’s?” is quite different from “Do you believe in little green humanoids from space flying about Earth?”

            One last point: chair has a fairly big executive component, and Kucinich was a successful mayor of a large city. If I’m in charge and we’re dealing with getting the best bang for the public’s buck, again: it’s a clear choice, albeit among two terrific candidates.

  3. scribe says:

    Towns is from NY-10: Brooklyn. His site.

    His rating: a rank-and-file Dem.

    My impression of him is that he is OK as a Congressman, but would not be an effective chairman. He is a by, of and about the Brooklyn Democratic Machine (the one that always has at least one D.A. nipping about the edges). He impresses me as being not-too-imaginative, a good solid constitutent services guy. I’d guess he’s Brooklyn’s answer to Charlie Rangel, but without Charlie’s leadership ability.

    Not someone to entrust Oversight to. Probably not up to the job.

      • scribe says:

        All anyone has to know is “he’s from Brooklyn”.

        That’s not to say being from Brooklyn is, per se, bad – ethically or otherwise. It isn’t.

        But, being out of that Brooklyn Democratic machine practically guarantees more than a few skeletons and ethical messes in the Congressman’s closet. When I said “there’s always a D.A. nipping around the edges” of the Brooklyn machine, I meant it. It’s a real snakepit, and Towns, by rising to Congress out of it, has to be one of the biggest, baddest snakes in the whole pit. By definition.

        I cannot emphasize that problem enough.

  4. scribe says:

    Cummings is on-top-of-things sharp.

    Quoting from Jane’s post on the Senate’s bipartisan repurposing for the auto industry:

    The impact of a Big 3 bankruptcy would be far reaching. Elijah Cummings was on MSNBC earlier noting that local television advertising revenues would be cut by 30% if local auto dealers went out of business.

    Towns doesn’t display that kind of sharp.

  5. nomolos says:

    Kucinich has become something of a laughing stock unfortunately and I believe that Oversight would lose a lot of stature and clout with him in the chair. As for the others I know little of them.

    • CTuttle says:

      Only because the Very Serious Pinheads Pundits have collaborated to ridicule his every proposal/action… i.e. his ‘Peace Dept’ and the Impeachment articles…

      If you actually read what his PD proposal was, you’d see that it made a lot of sense in that we’d project ’soft power’ versus ‘hard power’ in the international arena… Also, we all know why the Articles failed…

    • barbara says:

      Well, crap. My tiny mind was all set to get behind Kucinich (because he’s done a lot of heavy lifting for the Dems, however imperfectly), until you reminded me/us of his reputation. I know very little about Cummings. Which is why I am an FDL denizen. All y’all make me smart.

    • NMvoiceofreason says:

      This is a man who I greatly respect (Kucinich), who is most noted in the debates for having seen a UFO. I’ve seen lots of UFO’s (Aircraft I can’t identify), but just the “Moonbat” association alone will be used to discredit his work.

      Cummings is more like Perry Mason. He will get you to admit seemingly innocuous stuff, until you realize you have assembled the four walls of your own prison cell…

      Waxman was great and he will be missed.

  6. LabDancer says:

    Both are terrific personalities and entirely suited to chair positions. In an ideal world I would prefer Cummings to take over at Judiciary, but that’s not going to happen. But the close question comes down to the fact that this Congress and the next and most likely the next two thereafter will have a Dem in the White House, and one who is center right on some issues and center left on others, so which of these two is likely to push him more and in what direction? I think the answer is obvious.

    • emptywheel says:

      I would take Nadler taking over at HJC.

      But since it sounds like Cummings is choosing not to challenge Towns (I’m fairly sure he considered it), it suggests the CBC is going to try to reassert seniority after the Waxman coup dented it.

      • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

        Wow, Nadler at HJC would be an improvement.
        And it would also be smart of a Congress that’s going to have more scrutiny from the (CSPAN and CNN) viewing public.

  7. cbl2 says:

    thank you William Ockham – both Cummings and Maloney stepped away

    Empty – hadn’t really heard much of him before today – hope he’s got the muscle to keep Issa at heel

    Evenin’ All

  8. daemon says:

    OT abit…

    Mukasey’s in WSJ OpEd:
    http://online.wsj.com/article/…..46291.html

    Other federal courts hearing the approximately 250 Gitmo habeas cases have sought to answer similar questions. But as different judges reach different answers — and as some of those answers, I fear, create risks for our national security — there ]remains a pressing need for Congress, working with the administration, to establish one set of rules that is both consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision and recognizes the important national security and intelligence interests of the United States.

    There’s more. Worser.
    Seen this w/FISA already.

  9. laurastrand says:

    I favor a tag team. Luchadora masks preferable. Why, oh why must we choose? Congressional savants, what’s the rule on committee chairmanships?
    Kucinich floats like a vegan, and Cummings stings like a King-Bee!

  10. boygabe says:

    As a constituent of Ed Towns, I can unfortunately guarantee he will completely fail to live up to the standard set by Waxman, or live up to even minimal expectations.

    Towns is the definition of a modern, do-nothing congressman. He’s been in Congress for 26 years and hasn’t chaired one committee. He hasn’t co-authored one piece of major legislation, nor has he even been a part of a significant issue/movement. Simply put, he’s intellectually incurious and motivationally-challenged.

    Our district is desperate to vote him out, but we haven’t been able to put up a decent enough candidate in the primaries. We are a heavily Democratic district, meaning there is never an independent or a Republican to challenge him. He’s part of the Brooklyn Democratic Machine, which means he has money and establishment behind him every two years.

    Towns doesn’t represent his (extremely liberal and African American) community well at all. He hasn’t even managed to improve our atrocious string of post offices. What could be lower hanging fruit than improving the post offices in order to pacify your district?

    As a fun fact there’s this: no Congressman from a non-tobacco-producing state takes more money from the Tobacco Lobby than Towns does. And yet his district (NY-10) has an extremely high smoking rate. Nice one Ed! He voted against net neutrality. He voted for the bankruptcy bill. He has one of the poorest attendance rates on the Hill.

    On behalf of our district, I apologize for not voting this do-nothing guy out of office before he could assume chairmanship of a very important committee.

    Mark my words, this guy will disappoint.

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