(Updates with comments from the staff of Reps. Larsen and Titus.)
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The future of Democrats’ transportation and infrastructure agenda will be shaped by a new voice in the next Congress.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) was the first lawmaker to announce her candidacy to succeed longtime House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who announced Wednesday that he won’t seek reelection. Aviation Subcommittee Chair Rick Larsen (Wash.) is also interested in running for the top slot, according to his office.
Norton, who leads the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, is more senior than Larsen on the panel, but her status as a delegate prevents her from voting for or against bills on the House floor. Delegates can introduce legislation and vote in committees, but it would be unusual for a chair not to vote for key legislation that comes out of their committee on the floor.
Norton’s communications director, Sharon Eliza Nichols, noted on Twitter that there is precedence for a delegate leading a committee, including Northwest Territory Delegate William Henry Harrison, who became the first delegate in 1799 to head a committee, according to the Congressional Research Service.
“She would make an excellent committee chair,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), a member of the transportation panel. Johnson noted that with Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) also retiring, his seniority on the panel moves up, but that he would “probably” support Norton. He said he doesn’t think it should matter that she wouldn’t be able to vote on the floor as chair.
It’s not clear how many Democrats will vie for the top slot. Larsen’s staff said he is still gauging support from his colleagues.
Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), who serves as chair of the Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee, is not planning to run for the committee’s top position, but is interested in leading the Aviation Subcommittee, her spokesperson said.
The committee’s focus — recently trained on surface transportation reauthorization — is likely to shift when the new leader takes the helm in January 2023. Federal aviation programs expire at the end of fiscal 2023 and could dominate the panel’s work that year.
DeFazio is one of 19 incumbent House Democrats who have announced they aren’t seeking reelection, as they face a narrow majority and potential for a Republican takeover after next November’s elections.
Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), who is currently ranking member of the transportation panel, said he intends to continue his leadership on the committee in the next Congress.
“I hate to see Peter go, we’ve got a good relationship and you always hate to lose friends,” Graves said.
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