California Republicans heading into House leadership roles

California remains very much a Democratic state, but anyone looking to accomplish something in the House on California’s behalf next year will likely be speaking to a Republican.

California Republicans, eclipsed by Democrats when the latter enjoyed a majority, are poised to take key positions as the GOP dominates the House.

The most visible and significant change will of course be Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), the first woman Speaker of the House and first Speaker from California. However, Pelosi, 70, hopes to retain leadership of the minority Democrats in the House.

“It will hurt California to lose the Speakership, which probably ensured that any unique concerns of the state were at least considered in the legislative process,” UC Berkeley political science professor Rob Van Houweling said. “However, with such a large delegation than includes a number of Democrats and Republicans, I think the state will continue to be well represented in the House.”

Republican legislators from Southern California will take on key House leadership positions and chairmanships. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), one of the GOP’s so-called Young Guns, will now be the top-ranking California Republican and the fourth-ranking Republican in the House. He could move even higher in the leadership if Mike Pence (R-IN), chair of the House Republican Conference, resigns to run for governor of Indiana, as expected.

Darrel Issa (R-San Diego) will take over the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, once led by Waxman. Issa has promised to use this new position to conduct wide-ranging investigations, including a probe of the Obama administration’s SEC case against Goldman Sachs. Issa has said Obama committed an “impeachable offense” by offering an administration job to Joe Sestak to drop out of the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary against Arlen Specter.

David Dreier (R-San Dimas) is in line to chair the Rules Committee, a position he held until the Democratic takeover of the House in 2006. The Rules Committee chair has a significant influence over the final edits of legislation before they reach the House floor for a vote. If Republicans make good on their threat to repeal aspects of the Obama Administration’s 2010 health bill, Dreier will shepherd those efforts.

Buck McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) is in position to take over as chair of the Armed Services Committee, an enormously important position with regard to U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the past month, McKeon has criticized the Obama administration’s position on potentially transferring Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States. He has also said that allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the U.S. military could have a negative impact on military readiness.

Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands) may return to one of the most powerful positions in the House, chair of the Appropriations Committee. Lewis chaired the committee, which makes decisions on all aspects of federal funding, from 2005 to 2006. He would need a waiver from the Republican leadership to take the position, because of Republican term limits on committee positions.

“Lewis is someone who is quite happy with earmarks and extracting things for his district and presumably his state,” UC Berkeley political science professor Jack Citrin said. “But there are other members of the Republican leadership of the House who are hostile to that, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out.”

California Democrats also will lose influential House chairmanships. George Miller (D-Martinez) who served as the Obama administration’s Capitol Hill point person on education, relinquishes his chair of the Education and Labor Committee. Miller’s demotion could imperil Obama administration goals on reforming the No Child Left Behind education policy.

Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) will no longer preside over powerful Commerce and Energy Committee, and Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) steps down as chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Waxman has served as a major player on Capitol Hill during the Obama administration, as his work encompassed everything from the bailout of auto companies to climate change legislation. His chairmanship now likely passes to Joe Barton (R-TX), best known for apologizing to BP after the Gulf Coast oil spill.

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