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With Two Powerful Committee Chairs, Things Look Bright For Mass. In Democratic House

November 28, 2018
In The News

The Massachusetts House delegation is going into the 116th Congress wielding perhaps more influence than the Bay State has seen since the days of Joe Moakley and Tip O'Neill.

There's been a lot of excitement about new members of the Massachusetts delegation, freshmen Lori Trahan from Westford and Ayanna Pressley from Boston, but the real local power players of the coming Congress are rising star Katherine Clark and the two veteran House members from the western parts of the state.

When Democrats take over the Chamber in January, Springfield Rep. Richard Neal, a 15-term incumbent, will become the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, one of, if not the single, most powerful committees in Congress.

Worcester's Jim McGovern, a relative novice with only 10 terms under his belt, is taking over as Rules chairman. The Rules Committee, which is more under the radar than the purse-string-clutching Ways and Means panel, still holds enormous power in the halls of the capitol by controlling the inner workings of the House.

After speaking to a gathering of business leaders in Boston Monday, Neal emphasized that the state's powerful positions are all due to the work of the late Congressman Joe Moakley, a Rules chair himself, and the last Bay State speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill. According to Neal, he and McGovern are benefiting from their predecessors' insistence that they plant themselves on important committees and wait their turn.

"I know your eyes glaze over when you talk about these things, but you got to have everybody in the room on these key committees. So we have somebody on every key committee, and if they stay for a while they really, as I will testify, You do move," Neal told reporters after addressing the New England Council.

"It takes some time, but longevity is important still in congressional life," Neal said.

Neal and McGovern aren't the only ones from Massachusetts high up in Nancy Pelosi's leadership team. Melrose Rep. Katherine Clark won the position of Caucus Vice Chair Wednesday, the number six slot for Democrats in the House.


Newcomer Pressley was preparing to vote for Pelosi when she spoke to WGBH Wednesday morning.

"The committee assignments will take up the lion's share of our time. I would love to be assigned to Education and Labor, because I do see Education and Labor and Workforce as two of the chief ways to get at disparate outcomes in the Massachusetts 7th," Pressley said.

Pressley said her vote for the California Democrat to lead the caucus was cemented by a commitment to take up a gun safety bill early on next session.

"I do believe there is a bipartisan appetite, finally, for us to lead on this issue and that was a big part of my negotiations, my decision. And so I am very encouraged that I have an expressed commitment by Leader Pelosi that a gun bill will be put forward expediently in this session," Pressley said.

Beside freshmen Trahan and Pressley, the delegation has a number of mid-ranking members who are following that formula of getting on the right committees and staying put. Brookline Rep. Joseph Kennedy III agrees that the Ways and Means and Rules chairs are a huge deal for bringing benefits to Massachusetts, but he also sees the delegation's catbird positioning as a way to protect the state from what he deems harmful Republican policies.

"Also making sure that we're not hurt by policies that did go through the last House, which unquestionably we were on healthcare in particular, right? One of those versions of their healthcare bill literally was targeting states like Massachusetts to try to then benefit conservative states," Kennedy told WGBH after an event in Boston Tuesday.

There is a slight kink in the Moakley Machine as practiced by McGovern and Neal: When a delegation member runs afoul of leadership in such a way as to find themselves on the outs for good.

That could be the case for Salem Rep. Seth Moulton, the leader of the forces opposed to Pelosi resuming her role as Speaker. Moulton released a statement after Pelosi's nomination Wednesday saying that she had denied his request for a transition plan away from her leadership team over the coming years.

Neal, as dean and leader of the delegation, says he'll work for reconciliation and to convince Moulton to vote for Pelosi in January's formal speakership vote. In the meantime, Kennedy, a Pelosi supporter, doesn't think Moulton will be punished for his disloyalty and he gives him credit for sticking to his guns.

"Leader Pelosi is the right leader for our caucus, particularly at this moment," Kennedy said. "But Seth is a — he's a friend. He's got a critically important voice, not just for Massachusetts, but for our country in particular when it comes to foreign policy."