Our Pledge To You

Columnists

Illinois House Democrats ‘well-positioned’ in new Congress

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, joins, from left, Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., following a group photo with the women of the 116th Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. | AP Photo/Susan Walsh

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, joins, from left, Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., following a group photo with the women of the 116th Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. | AP Photo/Susan Walsh

WASHINGTON — They’re players.

New, important committee assignments put Illinois House Democrats back in the game.

“I haven’t seen the Illinois delegation so strong in quite awhile, you know, right across the board,” Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., told me.

“We are really, really well-positioned in Illinois,” Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., said when we talked.

With Democrats now in control of the House, veteran incumbents on the three most exclusive House committees — Jan Schakowsky, Bobby Rush, Danny Davis and Mike Quigley — had the seniority to move up to subcommittee chairs on Energy and Commerce; Ways and Means; and Appropriations.

Less senior but rising Illinois Democrats — Brad Schneider, Robin Kelly and Bustos — landed new spots on this trio of elite panels.

Bustos is on a trajectory to potentially become House Speaker in the post-Pelosi era.

Bustos is the new chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic House political operation, a powerful position with massive responsibility — retaining the majority in 2020.

Dan Lipinski is a subcommittee chair on the Transportation and Infrastructure panel.

Freshmen Sean Casten and Lauren Underwood, both from swing districts, secured perches helpful for their 2020 re-election bids.

The third freshman, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who represents a safe Democratic district, was tapped by an influential committee chair to be on a powerful panel even though he did not push for the post. The backstory is revealing.

Raja Krishnamoorthi won an important new assignment directly from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

And Bill Foster, who was in the group threatening to not vote for Pelosi for Speaker — he did, in the end — was not punished for being part of the rebellion.

The Illinois House delegation consists of 13 Democrats and only five Republicans, the most blue in decades.

Illinois also sent the most women ever to the House. Four of the 13 are women, all Democrats — Schakowsky, Kelly, Bustos and Underwood — topping the previous high of three females at the same time.

Rush, first elected in 1992, is the “dean’’ of the House delegation. Rep. John Shimkus is the senior Illinois Republican.

The Illinois senators

The Senate remains in GOP control, and both Illinois senators are Democrats. Sen. Dick Durbin, the number two Senate Democrat, already on Judiciary, Appropriations and Rules, is adding the committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry in this new Congress.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth,  a wounded Iraq war vet, after two years in the Senate, had the pull to land on the Armed Services Committee, a potential career-defining assignment for her. She remains on the Environment and Public Works and Commerce, Science and Transportation panels.

Who’s on what in the House

No Illinois Democrat is a committee chair. But no Illinois Republican ran a committee when the GOP was in recent control, so there was no net loss of power.

With most of the Democratic committee assignments completed last week, seven of the 13 Illinois House Democrats are on the three most exclusive panels — Appropriations, Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means. Three are on the next elite committee, Financial Services.

Quigley and Bustos are on Appropriations.

Energy and Commerce includes Rush, Schakowsky, Kelly and Illinois Republicans Shimkus and Adam Kinzinger. Schakowsky also remains on the Budget panel.

Danny Davis, Schneider and Republican Darin LaHood are on Ways and Means.

Casten and Garcia join Foster on Financial Services.

Krishnamoorthi jumps on Intelligence, serving with Quigley, a veteran on the committee in the spotlight with its investigations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Krishnamoorthi will also continue on another investigative panel, Oversight and Reform, along with Kelly and Republican Rodney Davis. Republican appointments are not completed for this high profile committee.

Casten and Underwood made long shot requests to be on Energy and Commerce.

“No freshmen are on Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce and Appropriations,” said Schakowsky, a chief deputy whip and one of the influential Democratic leaders involved in the committee-selection process.

The freshmen put their name up for the prime spots “to stake out where they want to be,” Schakowky said.

Underwood, a nurse whose pre-Congress career was in health-care policy and administration, got her next choice, the Education and Labor Committee.

“That committee has jurisdiction on employer-sponsored health-care plans, which is how the majority of Americans receive their health-insurance coverage,” Underwood told me. Underwood made health care a major issue in her campaign.

The Veterans Affairs panel needed members, so Underwood stepped up to take on that assignment, where Republican Mike Bost also serves. On Tuesday, Underwood was named to a third committee, Homeland Security.

Casten thought his 20 years in the clean-energy business would matter. It did not.

Though not on Energy, Casten said, “It’s not going to change what I want to do. So the question is, from what vantage points can I be effective, you know, stitching together some other amalgamation of committees.”

Casten joins Foster and Lipinski on the Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Garcia was added to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, with Lipinski and Republicans Bost and Rodney Davis.

Bustos remains on Agriculture with Rodney Davis and Bost.

Kinzinger stays on Foreign Affairs. Schneider adds the Small Business panel.

Maxine Waters recruits Chuy

Garcia wrangled his top choice, a spot on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

But Financial Services?

Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters, the fiery California Democrat and ferocious critic of President Donald Trump, has promised to take on Wall Street and the banking and housing industries.

In the Trump era, the outspoken Waters has become an outsized personality in her own right, a popular progressive lioness.

The Waters panel will be in the limelight.

Some of the splashiest personalities of the freshman class are on the committee, chief among them Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. The 29-year-old socialist Democrat, easily the most famous freshman, has 2.5 million Twitter followers.

Freshmen Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who recently made headlines calling Trump a “mother——,” and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts are joining the panel. So is presidential contender Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

Pressley is the first African-American Massachusetts sent to the House. But she’s one of us. Pressley grew up in Chicago and is a 1992 graduate of the Francis W. Parker School in Lincoln Park.

Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley and Tlaib are also all on the Oversight and Reform panel.

Waters was looking to strengthen her progressive wall and at the same time bring in someone she has known for years. Garcia fit the bill, so Waters recruited him.

When I asked Waters why she reached out to Garcia, she told me, “I supported Chuy when he ran for mayor, so I know Chuy and I wanted him.

“He’s interested in it. He has housing concerns and so I think he’s going to work out well.”

House Democrats wanted committees to represent all the internal factions, even as the party is being pulled to the left.

Casten joined the New Democrats, a group of more centrist House Democrats.

Waters said, “I don’t know Sean too well but he’s been recommended so I hope it all works out well.”

Garcia said in a statement, “As a member of the committee, I plan to address unfair lending practices and decades-long racial-injustice issues that disproportionately bar low-income families and communities of color from homeownership and financial security.”

 Raja wrangles Intelligence spot

Stepped up fundraising for House Democrats helped paved the way for Krishnamoorthi to land on the Intelligence Committee and Schneider to be picked for Ways and Means.

Krishnamoorthi, barely known two years ago, parlayed the Trump scandals and his seat on the Oversight and Reform committee into a national profile with his hits on cable news shows.

The Oversight and Intelligence committees have the power to subpoena documents and hold hearings on suspected Trump administration wrongdoing, parallel to the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

Krishnamoorthi, just starting his second term, leveraged fundraising for House Democrats to wrangle the Intelligence spot. Pelosi directly names members to that panel, and Krishnamoorthi told me he made a direct appeal to her.

Quigley, also on the Intelligence panel, is also a frequent national cable show guest, what with the growing number of questions about Trump conflicts and Russia meddling in the 2016 elections.

Krishnamoorthi is the only Democrat on both investigative panels.

Bustos and Kelly in addition to Schakowsky wield clout in committee assignments because they are on the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.

Kelly told me she has been pushing for Energy and Commerce since she was first elected in 2013. It helped that she was in the room when the decisions were being made.

For the ambitious, paying dues is crucial. Democrats and Republicans invoice on a sliding scale. Those on exclusive committees are billed substantially more.

Raising money for other Democrats is a consideration.

After years in heart-stopping close races — including a loss in 2014 and a comeback in 2016 — Schneider won another term last November by more than 30 points. The easier race gave Schneider the luxury of helping others.

Krishnamoorthi breezed to a second term with a 30-point-plus victory.

Schneider’s internal tallies show he raised or gave $1 million to help elect House Democrats, including $250,000 directly to the DCCC, his team told the Sun-Times.

Krishnamoorthi, according to his internal count, said he raised more than $400,000 and traveled to Ohio, Georgia and Pennsylvania to help other Democrats. He also contributed $250,000 to the DCCC.

“For the last term you are talking about I had dues I think of 150 and I think we paid 250,” Krishnamoorthi told me, referring to $150,000 and $250,000. “I believe I’ve had the distinction of giving the most of any freshman beyond my dues.”

Pelosi told me in an e-mailed statement, “Congressman Krishnamoorthi’s integrity and proven leadership have earned him the trust and respect of his colleagues in Congress, and his experience will be vital to ensuring the safety and security of American families and our democracy.”

Krishnamoorthi has $4.3 million cash on hand in his main campaign fund, the biggest balance of any Illinois House member.

“With regards to the Intelligence Committee, that is a big personal honor for me to be on that committee, which I feel is charged with safeguarding our democracy at this point,” Krishnamoorthi, born in New Delhi, India, told me.

“My parents and I came here as a 3-month-old baby from halfway around the world because of our democracy and its values. And now they’re under attack.”

“…I was on Oversight last term. And unfortunately it became a lack of oversight committee. And so there’s just a lot of unfinished business in terms of cleaning up ethical lapses, corruption — just, in my opinion, a lot of inefficiency at the agencies. And I want to see that through in this term.”