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CT Democrats secure key committee posts in Congress

Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., runs up the House steps on his way to the last vote of the week in the House chamber in Washington on Friday, March 19, 2021.
Caroline Brehman / CQ-Roll Call, Inc.
U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., runs up the House steps on his way to the last vote of the week in the House chamber in Washington on Friday, March 19, 2021.

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, was named the top Democrat of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Wednesday as members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation take on familiar committee and leadership roles — this time in a newly divided Congress.

The biggest difference for the delegation is that House members who were once chairs of powerful committees and subcommittees will now serve as ranking members since Democrats are the minority party. But some Connecticut lawmakers, like Himes, have been promoted within their committee ranks.

The appointment of Himes as ranking member elevates him on a panel where he has served for the past 10 years. It has oversight over U.S. intelligence agencies as well as some issues concerning the Pentagon and some other government agencies. But the Intelligence Committee functions differently from most in Congress, since the speaker of the House ultimately has power over who is seated.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., blocked two Democratic members — former Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif. — from being seated in this session of Congress. With a vacuum in Democratic leadership, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., tapped Himes to serve alongside Chairman Mike Turner, R-Ohio.

“The threats against our nation are fast evolving, and it is critical that the Intelligence Community keep pace,” Himes said in a statement. “The men and women of our Intelligence Community, many of whom make huge sacrifices for our safety, need and deserve our support and thanks. At the same time, aggressive oversight is critical to ensuring that their activities, often conducted in secret, are consistent with our constitutional and moral values.”

“During my tenure on the committee, I have also been lucky to develop a strong relationship with Chairman Mike Turner, and I look forward to continued collaboration in our shared, bipartisan mission,” he added.

Jim Himes speaks during broadcast of the 4th Congressional District debate at the David Levinson Theater at Norwalk Community College Oct. 6, 2022.
Mark Mirko
Connecticut Public
Jim Himes speaks during broadcast of the 4th Congressional District debate at the David Levinson Theater at Norwalk Community College Oct. 6, 2022.

Himes, who will also serve on the House Financial Services Committee, said he wants to help “open up the intel community to more innovative and forward-leaning ways of acquiring technology” as well as reauthorize a section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that allows a U.S. intelligence agency to conduct surveillance of those outside the country without a warrant. He expects a major debate on reauthorization and acknowledged some abuses that stem from FISA.

The committee also has jurisdiction over matters concerning classified documents found in unsecured locations from when Joe Biden was vice president as well as from former Vice President Mike Pence.

The Intelligence Committee has been more recently dealing with politically fraught matters, particularly surrounding former President Donald Trump. When Republicans were in charge, the committee investigated potential Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election. And when Democrats were at the helm, it played a central role in hearings during Trump’s first impeachment. Himes, however, feels confident the panel will be less politicized now.

“Polarization is sort of unnatural for that committee. And to his great credit, Speaker McCarthy has appointed really thoughtful, really serious people to the committee,” Himes said. “I think the prospects are good for a return to normalcy on that committee.”

Overall, the Connecticut delegation’s positions on committees will help shape major legislation including the 2023 farm bill, future government funding packages and the annual defense policy bill.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, in Washington.
Alex Brandon
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, in Washington.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, will now serve as ranking member of the influential House Appropriations Committee as well as the top Democrat on an Appropriations subcommittee on labor and health.

Because Democrats lost the House majority last year, she will no longer serve as the chairwoman but will still have influence in crafting an annual bill to fund the federal government and all of its agencies when current funding expires in the fall.

Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, was elected by the House Education and the Workforce Committee to serve as vice ranking member. She will also continue to serve on the House Agriculture Committee at a time when it is gearing up to enact a new farm bill that includes a host of agricultural, food and nutrition programs.

“Since my first term in Congress, I have demonstrated a thoughtful, academically sound, student-centered perspective on the Committee on Education and Labor,” Hayes said in a statement. “I hope to use this role to continue to elevate the voices of teachers, students and workers and advocate for policies that make our education system and workforce more equitable and just for all.”

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, is also climbing up the committee ranks within the minority party. He is now the second-highest ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee and third-highest ranking member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. He has had a prominent role in both the majority and minority party on the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee.

And Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, will be the ranking member for the Social Security subcommittee on the House Ways and Means Committee after previously serving as chairman.

In the Senate, Democrats still hold the majority and will have more influence on committees.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s committee roster will slightly change in this Congress. He will leave his spot on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and join the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. He will still serve on the Judiciary, Armed Services, Veterans’ Affairs committees and the Special Committee on Aging.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal meets with the press during a Congressional news briefing on Proposed Federal Legislation Concerning Assault Weapons, January 27, 2023.
Mark Mirko
Connecticut Public
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal meets with reporters during a congressional news briefing on proposed federal legislation regarding assault weapons, Jan. 27, 2023.

The Judiciary Committee will play a significant role over the next two years as Democrats seek to confirm more of Biden’s judicial nominations.

“I am excited to join a committee with such significant oversight responsibilities and investigative power, and I look forward to working with my new colleagues on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “While I may no longer be serving on the Commerce Committee, my priorities remain the same: protecting Americans from exploitation, fraud and abuse remains my driving passion.”

Sen. Chris Murphy will have the same assignments as the last session, with seats on the Appropriations, Foreign Relations, Democratic Steering & Outreach and the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions committees.

One of the biggest changes for the delegation from the last session of Congress is the termination of the House Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth. Himes was named chairman of that committee in 2020 but McCarthy has no plans to renew it as Republicans focus on the creation of other select committees.

The committee ended its work last year with a report on policy recommendations to tackle income and wealth disparities along with a 30-minute documentary narrated by actress Sarah Jessica Parker.

“It was not a priority for the Republicans,” Himes said. Economic disparity “hits every district. In my own very wealthy district, we have significant poverty. … It’s really not a partisan problem.”

The Connecticut Mirror/Connecticut Public Radio federal policy reporter position is made possible, in part, by funding from the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation and Engage CT.

Lisa Hagen is CT Public and CT Mirror’s shared Federal Policy Reporter. Based in Washington, D.C., she focuses on the impact of federal policy in Connecticut and covers the state’s congressional delegation. Lisa previously covered national politics and campaigns for U.S. News & World Report, The Hill and National Journal’s Hotline.

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