Senator Lieberman Stays; Representative Waxman Moves On

Over the past week, the leadership of the two congressional committees with oversight over the National Archives and National Historical Publications and Records Commission was settled. Senator Joseph I. Lieberman (ID-CT) will retain his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee after efforts to oust him from the job because of his outspoken support of John McCain for president failed. In the House, Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) won his battle to take the helm of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Chairman Waxman was perhaps the most vocal advocate of openness and transparency in the House and his leadership will be missed. Representative Waxman introduced the bill (H.R. 1255) to revoke President Bush’s Executive Order 13233, which has made it more difficult to gain access to presidential records. Chairman Waxman then shepherded the bill through the House with a veto-proof margin. Waxman also took the lead on investigating millions of e-mails missing from the White House computer system and pushed legislation through the House to strengthen the preservation of federal and presidential records. Waxman was also a leader in efforts to prevent the overclassification, and to speed declassification, of federal and presidential records.

No clear successor has emerged to Waxman especially since seniority is no longer the guarantee that it once was that the member next in line will ascend to the chair. Representative Edolphus Towns (D-NY) is next in seniority. However, it is not yet clear whether Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) will challenge Towns.

Although he was re-elected as an independent in 2006, Senator Lieberman has caucused with the Democrats and gave the party the razor thin 51-49 majority it needed to control the Senate in this Congress. However, his well-publicized support of Senator McCain and his criticism of president-elect Obama during the campaign caused a great deal of consternation among many Democrats. Once it became clear that the Democrats had enough new seats to ensure their majority, there was a great hue and cry for him to be stripped of his committee chair and banished from the Democratic Caucus.

In the end, a request from President-elect Obama that Lieberman be spared made the difference. By a vote of 42-13, the Democratic Caucus voted not to strip Lieberman of his chair.

During this Congress, Senator Lieberman was a stalwart supporter of legislation (H.R. 1255, S. 886) to revoke the Bush executive order on presidential records. Senator Lieberman pushed the bill through his committee and worked tirelessly behind the scenes negotiating with the Republicans to lift their hold and to allow the legislation to come to the floor for a vote. Lieberman will play a key role in the future of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission whose programs need to be reauthorized in 2009.