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Democratic congressional candidate Rob Menendez votes in Jersey City on June 7, 2022. (Photo: Menendez for Congress).

Menendez gets seat on powerful House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee

Close leadership race for N.J. freshman comes 20 years after his father won a race for Democratic Conference Chairman by one vote

By David Wildstein, December 09 2022 3:17 pm

Rep.-elect Robert J. Menendez (D-Jersey City) will serve as the freshman representative to the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee in 2023, giving the state’s newest Democratic congressman a seat on the influential panel that will determine committee assignments and helps leadership set their policy agenda.

“I am honored to have been elected by my peers to serve on the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee to represent our fellow new Members of Congress,” Menendez said.  “The Steering and Policy Committee has a profound impact on Democratic priorities and on what we can all do for the districts that entrusted us to work for them in Washington.”

Menendez and Rep.-elect Hillary Scholten (D-Michigan) ran against each other for the freshman seat on the panel and tied, 17-17.   House Minority Leader-designate Hakeem Jeffries helped broke an agreement that would give Menendez the seat for the first year of the 118th Congress, with Scholten replacing him in January 2024.

Jeffries called Menendez “a fighter for working families and diverse communities in New Jersey.”

“Both Hillary and Rob recognize that we must continue to fight for lower costs, better-paying jobs and safer communities,” the incoming minority leader stated.  “I know that as Members of the Steering and Policy Committee, they will continue to put People Over Politics.”

The tie in a leadership election for Menendez is reminiscent of a competitive leadership fight from 20 years ago.

The congressman-elect’s father, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, had just been re-elected to his sixth term representing the Hudson County-based seat and in November 2002 was running for House Democratic Conference Chair, the number three leadership post.  His opponent was Rosa DeLauro, a congresswoman from Connecticut.

Menendez won by just a single vote, 104 to 103.

The winning vote was cast by Tom Feeley, a Colorado state senator running for an open House seat.  Republican Bob Beauprez led Feeley by 122 votes out of 152,838.  With a recount set for after the November 14 leadership vote, Feeley and Beauprez both headed to Washington for freshman orientation.

Democrats allowed Feeley to vote in contested race for House Minority Leader and Democratic Conference Chair.

Feeley voted for Menendez – the deciding vote, as it turns out.

It took five weeks to count the votes in Colorado.  When the recount was over, Feeley lost by 121.

With Minority Leader Dick Gephardt stepping down to focus on his upcoming presidential run, Minority Whip David Bonior leaving early to governor of Michigan, and Democratic Conference Chairman Martin Frost losing re-election, there were a lot of openings in House leadership.

Nancy Pelosi became minority leader that year, with Steny Hoyer as the new minority whip.

Menendez had won the vice chairmanship in 1998 when Barbara Kennelly left to run for governor of Connecticut.  He had become one of four chief deputy whips in 1999 and after the 2000 race, he defeated Rep. Cal Dooley (D-California) on the second ballot by a vote of 124 to 81.  A third candidate, Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Maryland), had already been eliminated.

Jim Clyburn succeeded Menendez as vice chairman, and after Gov. Jon Corzine appointed Menendez to  the U.S. Senate in 2006, Clyburn became the Democratic Conference Chairman.

Jeffries prevailed in a close race for conference chair in 2018 after he defeated California Democrat Barbara Lee by ten votes, 123 to 113.

DeLauro remains a powerful member of the House.  She had served as Appropriations Committee chair for the last two years and is expected to become ranking minority member.

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