Oversight Chair Maloney’s Primary Loss Kicks Off Leadership Campaign

Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., prepares for the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing titled Birthing While Black: Examining Americas Black Maternal Health Crisis, in Rayburn Building on Thursday, May 6, 2021.

Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., prepares for the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing titled Birthing While Black: Examining Americas Black Maternal Health Crisis, in Rayburn Building on Thursday, May 6, 2021. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Influential Democrats on the powerful committee are already angling to succeed the chairwoman the day after her primary loss.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, lost her bid for a sixteenth term during Tuesday’s New York Democratic primary. She will leave behind a long legislative legacy that includes tackling a host of key government transparency and contracting issues when she departs at the end of the 117th Congress—as well as a prized vacancy atop one of the most powerful House panels. 

The 76-year-old Maloney, who was first elected to the House in 1992, lost re-election to Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., after a chaotic redistricting process forced the two incumbents into New York’s newly court-drawn 12th Congressional District. Nadler, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, was ahead of Maloney 55% to 24% as of Wednesday afternoon with 95% of the votes tabulated, according to the Associated Press. 

Maloney became the first woman to chair the Oversight Committee—which has broad authority to investigate “any matter” covered by other standing committees—following the death of then-Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., in 2019. Neither Maloney's congressional office or campaign responded to Nextgov's request for comment by the time of publication.

Maloney has focused on a wide range of issues as chair of the committee, from efforts to curtail conflicts of interest in the government contracting process to oversight of the Trump administration. As chairwoman, she introduced legislation to strengthen the Federal Information Security Management Act to better enable federal agencies to respond to and prepare for cyber threats, pressed Amazon to turn over documents regarding its labor practices and launched an investigation into the impact of misinformation on U.S. elections. And she has also championed legislation to protect the decennial U.S. census from any outside interference. 

Mike Hettinger, the founding principal of Hettinger Strategy Group and a former staff director of the Oversight Committee’s Government Operations Subcommittee, said it was disappointing Maloney lost her bid for reelection, but added that she will be leaving behind a strong legacy in Congress—both with what she’s done, and also with what she will likely help accomplish before the end of her term. 

“She’s still got a couple of things to finish up, like the FISMA legislation and some of the other stuff the committee has been focused on,” Hettinger said. “So I’d expect them to make a big push with the limited legislative time we have left this Congress to get some of the things that are priorities of hers across the finish line.” 

In a statement, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., praised Maloney for her “tenacious leadership” while in Congress.

“At the helm of the powerful Committee on Oversight and Reform, Chairwoman Maloney has worked to honor our Founder’s vision of checks and balances: leading the Congress’s charge against corruption, corporate greed and abuses of power,” Pelosi said. “Under her leadership, the committee has taken on special interests—from the gun lobby to Big Pharma to the financial sector and more—to fight for the people’s interest.”

Maloney’s primary loss now sets off a race between lawmakers on the Oversight Committee to see who will succeed her as the panel’s top Democrat. Committee leaders are selected internally by their fellow lawmakers. Current polling suggests that Republicans are poised to take control of the House, and such an outcome would make the committee’s next top Democrat the ranking member. Uncertainty following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, however, has upended prognosticating about the political makeup of the 118th Congress. 

Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., who chairs the panel’s national security subcommittee, and Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who chairs the panel’s government operations subcommittee, both announced their candidacies on Wednesday to succeed Maloney as chair. Both Lynch and Connolly previously announced their intentions to chair the committee following Cummings’ death in 2019 before dropping out of the race or losing to Maloney. 

Connolly’s office released a statement on Wednesday morning announcing his intention of running for the top Democratic spot on the committee.

“The American people must see the Committee on Oversight and Reform as a force for making government work, enforcing accountability to Congress, and most importantly, protecting our fragile democracy and strengthening the institutions that define American democratic resilience,” Connolly said, citing his efforts to modernize the federal government as one of his top priorities during his service on the committee. 

In a letter circulated to his fellow Democratic colleagues on Wednesday afternoon, Lynch also touted his more than 20 years of service on the committee and his active investigations into U.S. election security and Russia’s war in Ukraine in announcing his bid.

“I believe I am well prepared to serve at this pivotal moment in our history when it is clear that some Republican members have actively chosen to disregard the truth and their sworn oaths of office in favor of political gamesmanship, divisive rhetoric and disinformation regarding the 2020 election, the January 6th insurrection, misconduct by former President [Donald] Trump, and other issues of critical concern to the American people,” Lynch wrote.

Other prominent Democratic committee members, such as Jamie Raskin, D-Md., have gained influence on the Hill for their efforts taking on the Trump administration. Raskin serves on the Jan. 6 select committee and was the lead impeachment manager during former President Trump’s second impeachment trial. Raskin’s office did not respond to a request for comment when asked if the congressman had any desire to run for the top Democratic spot on the committee. 

“It’ll be important to look at the body of work these people have done,” Hettinger said about Maloney’s potential successors. “Gerry Connolly, for example, has done a tremendous job for the things that those of us in the government contracting and government technology industry care about, and that’s obviously a big factor that the leadership will have to weigh as they figure out what they want to do.” 

Hettinger added that the quick announcements from Lynch and Connolly underscored the “shell game” nature of the political process as lawmakers angle for more influential positions on the committee. 

“Once the door opens, everyone’s hand is a bit forced,” Hettinger said.