Rep. Henry Waxman (D)
Elected: 1974, 18th term.
Born: Sept. 12, 1939, Los Angeles .
Home: Los Angeles.
Education: U.C.L.A., B.A. 1961, J.D. 1964.
Family: Married (Janet); 2 children.
Elected office: CA Assembly, 1968–74.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1965–68.
The congressman from the 30th District is Henry Waxman, a Democrat first elected in 1974, and today one of the ablest members of the House, a shrewd political operator, and an idealistic policy entrepreneur. He is chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. There is no Westside glitz about him. The son of Russian immigrants, Waxman grew up over his family’s store in Watts. He has never attended the Oscars ceremony. He graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles and its law school, where he met Howard Berman, his longtime political ally and colleague. (Berman is also a House member from California.) They became immersed in the Federation of Young Democrats, based in California, and Waxman chaired the group for a year. He moved up rapidly in politics by spying openings before others did. He ran against Assemblyman Lester McMillan in the mostly Jewish Fairfax area in 1968, at age 28, and won 64% in the primary. From 1971 to 1972, he chaired the Assembly’s redistricting committee, a good place to make friends. In 1974, he was elected to Congress. Waxman’s biggest break in Congress came after the 1978 election, when he was elected chairman of the Commerce Committee’s Health and Environment Subcommittee. This was one of the first times House Democrats decided to ignore seniority in handing out subcommittee chairs. Waxman argued his case on the issues. And in a move quite unprecedented at the time, though common in Sacramento, he made campaign contributions to other Democrats on the full committee. (The practice is all but expected today of anyone trying to get a committee gavel or role in party leadership in Congress.) Waxman won the post, 15-12, over the widely respected Richardson Preyer of North Carolina.
|Henry Waxman (D)||Unopposed||($745,084)|
|Henry Waxman (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (71%), 2004 (71%), 2002 (70%), 2000 (76%), 1998 (74%), 1996 (68%), 1994 (68%), 1992 (61%), 1990 (69%), 1988 (72%), 1986 (88%), 1984 (63%), 1982 (65%), 1980 (64%), 1978 (63%), 1976 (68%), 1974 (64%)
In the 1970s and 1980s, Waxman and Berman built their own political machine in Los Angeles. Its power came not from patronage but from fundraising and savvy. They raised huge sums on the Westside for favored candidates. They put out carefully targeted direct mail, with hundreds of customized letters and endorsement slates sent out to different lists of people. In California, where television advertising is exceedingly expensive and political activists are widely dispersed geographically, this made them critical though not always successful players. But their organization withered over time. Waxman is less active now in Los Angeles-area politics, though he did endorse former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa in his successful race against Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn in 2005.
From 1978 to 1994, Waxman was part of the Democratic majority in the House and the chairman of an important subcommittee, making him a major national policy maker, usually from behind the scenes. In 1981 and 1982, he prevented the Reagan administration and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., from revising the Clean Air Act, because he wanted tougher pollution controls. Biding his time, Waxman worked to strengthen the law in its 1990 revision. He also had a hand in legislation addressing chemicals in drinking water, radon abatement, and lead contamination. Another Waxman project was expanding Medicaid for the poor. Between 1984 and 1990, he got coverage for all poor children up to 18, all children under 7, and pregnant women in families under 133% of poverty income. This helped raise Medicaid from 9% to 14% of state spending in the 1980s, and explains why Waxman was unpopular with many governors.
He had less success with overhauling national health care. He supported the 1993 Clinton plan, which significantly increased government’s role in the U.S. health care system, but the proposal never got through Congress. Waxman has secured funding for AIDS research, important in a district with a large gay population. In early 1994, in widely publicized hearings, he lined up the chief executive officers of leading tobacco companies and accused them of adding nicotine and other substances to cigarettes and of lying in their testimony. All of this had no immediate legislative result, and when Republican Thomas Bliley of Virginia became Commerce Committee chairman, the hearings stopped. But Waxman brought the tobacco issue into public view, and he helped inspire the lawsuits against tobacco companies that resulted in a massive redistribution of corporate assets—from the tobacco companies to state governments and trial lawyers.
When Republicans took over Congress in 1995, there was no slackening of effort on Waxman’s part, though he was largely shut out of the legislative process. In 1996, he gave up the ranking position on the health subcommittee to become the ranking Democrat on the Government Reform Committee, where he concentrated on holding hearings and seeking and publicizing Government Accountability Office reports. “When the Republicans excluded me and other Democrats from legislating, we had to figure out something else to do. So we did our own investigations,” he said. Waxman sharply attacked Chairman Dan Burton’s investigation of Clinton campaign misdeeds, arguing that Burton had given himself unprecedented subpoena power and was misusing it. He emerged as the House’s most articulate defender of President Clinton during the campaign finance scandal. In 2001, with Republican George W. Bush as the new president, Waxman switched from being a defender of the White House to being a critic, frequently writing letters to Burton calling for investigations. He and Dingell instigated a GAO investigation of company executives who had been consulted by Vice President Cheney’s energy task force. In February 2002, the GAO brought a lawsuit against Cheney, but a federal judge ruled against the agency.
In January 2003, Virginia Republican Tom Davis took over as committee chairman and promised a more constructive relationship with Waxman. Nevertheless, Waxman indefatigably wrote multipage letters with dozens of footnotes and questions, called for GAO investigations, and invoked the 1920s seven-member rule, which entitles any seven members of the committee to seek information from the executive branch. He assembled a staff of dozens of investigators, squirreled in tiny offices around the Capitol Hill complex. He and Ohio Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown demanded that 10 pharmaceutical companies reveal how much they paid in consulting fees and stock options to National Institutes of Health scientists, which led to a stricter NIH policy on ethics and disclosure in 2005. Waxman has been a leading critic of Halliburton and other government contractors in Iraq, pointing out relentlessly that Cheney was once Halliburton’s chief executive officer. In 2004, he said that State Department documents showed that Halliburton employees tried to extract bribes for fuel contracts. The committee held hearings on contracting in Iraq, for which Waxman commended Davis. They also worked together on investigations on mad-cow disease and D.C. drinking water. But Waxman blistered Davis in a seven-page letter for investigating former Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger in July 2004. Berger said then that he only inadvertently took classified documents out of the National Archives. But in 2005, Davis was more than vindicated when Berger admitted that he took them on purpose.
Democrats took control of the House in 2007, giving Waxman the gavel at the renamed Oversight and Government Reform Committee. When asked whether he would issue a flurry of subpoenas of the Bush administration, Waxman said, “I’d prefer not to. We want to return to civility and bipartisanship. Legislation ought to be based on evidence, not ideology.” Davis, who became the ranking minority member, said, “There is no question that life is going to be different for the administration. Henry is going to be tough . . . and he’s been waiting a long time to do this.” Waxman reduced the number of subcommittees from seven to five and doubled the staff reporting to him. His first hearings were on whether the administration had interfered with the work of climate scientists and on fraud and waste in reconstruction projects in Iraq. Witnesses denied that, as Waxman alleged, there was $10 billion in fraud, but Davis noted that there was “an arcane, ill-suited management structure.”
Waxman called secret agent Valerie Plame to the stand to air her complaints that the revealing of her name by an undisclosed, high-level government source had violated national security, which touched off a scandal that ultimately sent Cheney Chief of Staff Lewis (Scooter) Libby to jail for perjury and obstruction of justice. In 2007, Waxman subpoenaed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to testify on prewar intelligence in Iraq. He also sought information on White House contacts with disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, calling on incoming Attorney General Michael Mukasey in October 2007 to hand over White House files relating to Abramoff, and threatening Mukasey with contempt of Congress in June 2008. He relented after President Bush claimed executive privilege, but in a December 2008 report, he and Davis called Bush’s claim “legally unprecedented” and “inappropriate.” Few subjects seemed too far afield for a Waxman investigation: He probed the health effects of uranium mines on Navajo lands, the pricing of government contracts with Sun Microsystems, and steroid use in professional baseball. Probably his most publicized hearing came in February 2008, when baseball pitcher Roger Clemens and his former trainer gave conflicting testimony on drug use. In 2008, Waxman turned his focus to the collapse of major financial institutions as a result of shaky lending practices. He sought information on the compensation of executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage issuers, and in October 2008 he called former Lehman Brothers chief Richard Fuld to testify.
Amid this flurry of activity, Waxman was looking ahead to the likelihood that a Democratic administration in 2009 would provide fewer targets than the Bush administration. And with a Democratic president (as it turned out), Waxman could achieve more of his policy goals on the Energy and Commerce Committee than on the oversight committee. He remained particularly interested in issues related to air pollution and global warming. He had co-sponsored bills limiting carbon emissions and supported the bill passed by the California Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006. In addition, he had long been eager to advance national health insurance legislation. All of this suggested that Waxman wanted to be chairman of the Energy and Commerce panel. But there was a hitch. An equally savvy and effective Democrat, Dingell of Michigan, was in line to be chairman. But Dingell was 81 years old and in failing health. Also working against Dingell was his sometimes rocky relationship with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who, by contrast, was a big fan of Waxman’s. In 2007, Pelosi created a special committee headed by Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey to examine global warming. This was seen as an end run around Dingell, who represents a Detroit-area district and whose views on air-pollution regulation had long differed from those of Pelosi, Waxman, and Markey.
The clash that had been brewing finally came after the November 2008 elections. House Democratic rules provided for committee chairmen to be chosen by a vote of the Democratic Caucus, the group of all House Democrats. Waxman had been quietly seeking support and making contributions to Democrats in close elections. When Waxman made it public that he was challenging Dingell for the chair of Energy and Commerce, Dingell was evidently not as well prepared. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland tried to bargain a compromise that would have had Dingell agreeing to cede the chair after two years and Waxman promising not to seek it until then. Waxman and Dingell both declined the compromise.
In the past, some Democratic members had retired before they reached the point where they could be humiliated by being deprived of a gavel because they were seen as less competent than a challenger, but this was not the issue here: Both men were regarded as highly competent. On Nov. 19, 2008, the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee voted 25-22 for Waxman. This was seen as a signal that Pelosi was supporting Waxman, though the margin was pretty small. There were signs that President-elect Obama was leaning Waxman’s way. Obama had just reiterated his support for tougher carbon emissions legislation and had hired Waxman’s longtime chief of staff, Phil Schiliro, as the White House liaison to Congress. The caucus vote was scheduled for November 20. Dingell had the support of many members of the Congressional Black Caucus, of the conservative “Blue Dogs,” and of the moderate New Democrats. He also had the backing of lawmakers from industrial and coal states that would be hit hard by carbon emissions legislation. Waxman had the support of most of the 33 Democrats in the California delegation, and of the bulk of the Democratic freshmen. Waxman won 137-122. Dingell was named chairman emeritus and assigned ex officio seats on subcommittees where he was not already a voting member.
As chairman, Waxman is in a position to play a major role on environmental and health care legislation. In early 2009, it seemed unlikely that there would be tension between him and Markey over the latter’s non-legislative committee, but the 122 votes cast for Dingell suggested that it would be difficult to hold all Democrats in line for the carbon emissions legislation, which would impose a cap-and-trade system forcing companies to seek credits from “cleaner” companies in order to pollute the air beyond certain government-set levels. When the House voted on the bill in June, 44 Democrats opposed it, but it passed. Also, in December 2008 Waxman and Minnesota Democrat James Oberstar, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, called for expanding the reach of the Clean Water Act. Waxman’s committee shares jurisdiction over health care policy with the Ways and Means Committee, but still has considerable influence there.
Waxman has always won re-election easily, and continues to contribute generously, and strategically, to other Democrats’ campaigns.