A day after re-electing Rep. Nancy Pelosi to lead them in the next Congress, House Democrats rebuffed her effort Wednesday to elect a close ally to an important committee post.
In a closed-door meeting, Democrats voted 100-90 to make New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The loser was California Rep. Anna Eshoo, a Pelosi friend whose Silicon Valley district is near San Francisco, which Pelosi represents.
The vote attracted interest because it came amid grousing over this month's elections, which saw House Democrats lose at least a dozen seats, and the job the party had done in reaching out to middle-class voters.
Though Pelosi retained her post as House minority leader without opposition, Eshoo's defeat raised questions about whether rank-and-file Democrats were in a mood to award a plum assignment to one of Pelosi's close allies.
Pallone was supported by Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democratic leader and a long-time Pelosi rival.
Pelosi had taken the unusual step for a leader of sending a letter to Democrats supporting Eshoo.
"One can make the argument that she overdid it," Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., said of Pelosi's effort. He said Pallone's victory would be "very healthy for leadership" because it underscored the need for leaders to listen to lawmakers' concerns.
The Energy and Commerce panel is coveted because of its jurisdiction over high-profile issues like health, environment and communications.
The vote was conducted by secret ballot. Internal congressional contests can be buffeted by numerous factors, including regional loyalty, gender and race, personal relationships and the degree to which seniority is valued.
Many leading members of the Congressional Black Caucus voiced support for Pallone. As the seniority of black lawmakers has grown, many have increasingly viewed seniority as a crucial factor in choosing top committee jobs.
Pallone was elected to the House in 1988, Eshoo in 1992.
After the vote, Pallone and Eshoo each downplayed the impact that Democrats' attitudes about Pelosi had on their race.
Pelosi issued a statement congratulating Pallone for "a hard-fought campaign" and Eshoo for her work on technology issues.