Orange County House Members Land Key Committee Roles
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
Orange County’s seven-member congressional delegation is settling into committee assignments for the upcoming session, with freshmen members getting word of their appointments from House leadership.
The diverse committee appointments — ranging from Foreign Affairs to Transportation to Natural Resources — could play major roles in shaping what representatives do for their constituents over the next two years in office.
Partisanship and the close political divide of the House of Representatives combine for a “national lawmaking environment (that) makes it incredibly difficult to get things done,” said UC Irvine political science professor Matthew Beckmann.
But Beckmann added that gridlock isn’t a given, and the roles each member plays can be important. “Issues that are not as exciting for cable news and twitter mobs are able to make it past Congress, often with bipartisan support. That is where committee assignments matter.”
The most powerful committee assignment in the local delegation will once again go to Rep. Linda Sánchez, D-Whitter, a 10-term representative whose 38th District includes a sliver of north Orange County along with a swath of southern Los Angeles County. Sánchez will continue to serve this session as a senior member on the coveted Ways and Means Committee, which oversees taxation and other revenue-raising measures, plus major programs from Medicare to Social Security.
Sánchez is already drawing headlines this session for leading Democrats’ efforts to pass President Joe Biden’s proposed immigration reform bill through the House, which would give undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. She also is chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ Immigration Task Force, a co-chair of the Labor Caucus and vice chair of the LGBTQ Equality Caucus. She also has been appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to serve on the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.
Politicians, of course, always want to be where the action is, Beckmann said. Since the Biden administration is starting the term with a huge COVID-19 relief bill, he said appointments on the Budget or Appropriations committees would be key out of the gate. No Orange County members landed one of those roles.
“That said, the Democratic ambitions are large — from climate change to criminal justice; voting rights to tax rates — so there are lots of places for entrepreneurial lawmakers to make a dent,” Beckmann said.
If anyone has proved that lower-profile committee roles don’t have to mean lower profiles for representatives, it’s Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine.
During her freshman term representing O.C.’s 45th District, Porter — who taught consumer bankruptcy law at UC Irvine before her 2018 election to the House — regularly grabbed national headlines in her role as a member of the Financial Services Committee. Several videos showing committee-member Porter grilling banking executives went viral on social media.
However, Porter won’t serve on that committee in her second session because the Financial Services Committee is considered “exclusive,” which means members can’t take seats on other committees unless they first get a waiver from House leadership. Though Porter got that waiver last session, so she could also serve on the Oversight and Reform Committee, she didn’t get a waiver this cycle. So she’ll continue this session on the House Oversight Committee and will join the Natural Resources Committee.
Porter said she’s excited about her new role with Natural Resources, with an initial focus on undoing damage that she believes President Donald Trump did to public lands and oceans. And she insists she’s not going to stop holding powerful people to account.
“I want to be very clear that I’ll continue to ask rigorous questions and to get answers for the American people, regardless of what committees I’m on,” Porter said.
“I’m also not going to back away from being active on the issues relating to families’ struggles to make ends meet, which means if I think there’s a better approach, or I have a good idea about financial services, I’m going to file those bills and push to be heard on them.”
Pelosi granting waivers for members to serve in prize roles is “almost sure to create more problems than it solves,” Beckmann said, so he wasn’t particularly surprised to see Porter’s request denied. He also said he has faith that Porter will continue to prove herself an effective legislator despite the change.
“She knows better than anyone where she can make a difference, so the fact that she prioritized Oversight and Natural Resources has me intrigued to see what she has planned.”
Also on the Natural Resources Committee will be two-term Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, and five-term Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach. Lowenthal will remain chair of that panel’s subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, and he’ll continue to serve on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
A new face will join Lowenthal on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee: Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Seal Beach, who on Nov. 3 ousted freshman Democrat Harley Rouda in O.C.’s coastal 48th District. The 60-plus member panel has jurisdiction over a slew of issues, from the Coast Guard to federal management of natural disasters to water pollution.
“One of my top priorities as the representative for Orange County is to ensure our coastline remains protected, and our beaches and bays remain clean and safe for generations to come,” Steel said. “This includes flood protection and sand replenishment on our shores.”
Steel said she also hopes to work through the committee on addressing freeway congestion and noise pollution in O.C. communities.
Orange County’s other new representative, Rep. Young Kim, R-La Habra, will be the only local member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which oversees everything from deploying troops around the world to distribution of foreign aid to international student exchange programs.
Kim, who defeated Rep. Gil Cisneros in November, also will serve on the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, which has members from both parties working to find common ground on key issues.
“The Problem Solvers Caucus is Congress working at its best, and has played a significant role in making bipartisan deals on COVID-19 relief, immigration reform, health care and other important policy issues,” said Kim, whose 39th District includes portions of Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.
Some committees have an easier time finding bipartisan ground than others, and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee is high on that list. Levin will serve again on that committee, where he passed a number of bills last session. He also is expected to stay on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.
Rep. Lou Correa, D-Anaheim, will continue as a senior member of the Homeland Security Committee and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, where he’ll also serve on a subcommittee focused on immigration.
“President Biden has announced the most ambitious immigration plan we have seen since Ronald Reagan last tackled the problem in the 1980s, and the House Judiciary Committee will be at the forefront of this process,” said Correa, who’s starting his third term in office.
Correa also will take on a new role this session on the Agriculture Committee, where he aims to help create jobs, address food insecurity, and the need for expanded assistance for hungry families across the country.
While leadership fights it out on high-profile legislation, Beckmann said effective lawmakers can make their own mark through committee work on issues that are less newsworthy but still important.
“Committee work is the daily grind of doing research, drafting legislation and building coalitions. It may not be glamorous, but that is what makes it public service.”
Category: Government Affairs, Greater Irvine Chamber, Legislative News