Juan Gonzalez Analyzes the New Democratic Leadership in the House

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Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez discusses the outcome of the mid-term elections and analyzes the makeup of the new Democratic leadership in the House. [includes rush transcript]

  • Juan Gonzalez, Daily News * columnist* and co-host of Democracy Now!

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, you spent Election Day, some of the time, with a man who may well become one of the most powerful men in the House.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, I spent a couple of hours with Charles Rangel in Harlem, the Harlem Congress member now of 36 years, discussing — because it was pretty clear by early in the day to many of the Congress members, especially who were running for office, that the change was in the air and about what this would mean. Of course, Rangel will become the chair of the Ways and Means Committee now, one of the most powerful committees in the House.

AMY GOODMAN: What some have called the “Ways to be Mean Committee.”

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, yes. But the main thing about it is it deals with all of the government’s money and basically all the tax bills. Medicare, Medicaid changes, all of that would have to go through Ways and Means. And Rangel’s message was basically, the American people can forget about any privatization of Social Security, any health savings accounts, any more tax cuts for the wealthy, as long as he’s chair of the Ways and Means Committee. So, it obviously is going to be — as he said, it’s not what Rangel can do, it’s what he won’t do in the next two years, in the last two years of the Bush administration. So this is a pretty significant change in terms of federal tax policy.

But I think even more so, the thing that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention is that the Democratic Party that is now coming back into power in Congress is a very different Democratic Party from the one that went out in the early 1990s. Back in those days, the Southern Democrats exercised an inordinate amount of power in Congress, because most of the Southern Dixiecrats, as they were called, controlled many of the committees of Congress that do all of the work in deciding the legislation. And many of those former congressmen have either retired or — and, of course, the South is increasingly Republican, so that now you’re getting in the new congress quite a few people coming into power in these committees who were a product of the Democratic revolution of the Voting Rights Act.

You have John Conyers, obviously, who will be heading the Judiciary Committee. You have Rangel, who will be heading Ways and Means. You have Nydia Velazquez, who will be heading the Small Business Committee. Benny Thompson of Mississippi will be heading the Homeland Security Committee. So you’re getting quite a few, for the first time, African Americans, Latinos and women, such as Nancy Pelosi, basically in the management of the Congress, rather than just as members. And they are likely to be quite a bit more independent than those who were there before. So I think you’re going to be seeing a lot more assertive congress. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s going to be a radical congress at all, but certainly a much more assertive congress and less beholden to the old boy network that existed previously.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Conyers is expected to head Judiciary. Who would do Intelligence?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, the Intelligence Committee, the senior person on the Intelligence Committee right now is Jane Harman, and who has not been a very vocal critic of the Bush administration. But everything that I’m hearing is that Nancy Pelosi does not want to make her the chair of the Intelligence Committee. The second ranking Democrat is Alcee Hastings of Florida, who could possibly get the seat, but the problem that he has had, of course, is he was impeached when he was a judge and is very much disliked by the Republicans.

So what I’m hearing is that there’s a distinct possibility that Silvestre Reyes, the congressman from El Paso, former Marine captain in Vietnam, but also an early opponent of the war in Iraq, could possibly end up as the head of the Intelligence Committee, which would be quite interesting, that an opponent of the war would be in charge of the Intelligence Committee.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, this should all be very interesting to follow, not to mention what will happen even with the Bob Gates replacing Donald Rumsfeld hearings and when exactly they will take place.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Right. And I think also the other thing that we should note is that the changes in the electorate in this election have been a lot deeper than people realize. I was looking at the New York Times exit polls that were produced today. Young voters voted overwhelmingly Democratic. The only areas in where Republicans retained a majority of the voters were in people who earned over $100,000 a year and demographic groups among white Protestants and among men. Women, overwhelmingly Democratic. African Americans, Latinos, Asians, all the demographic groups, Catholics, Jewish voters — basically only people over $100,000 a year and also the elderly, people over 60 years of age, still voted majority Republican. But the younger you get in the population, the more Democratic its leanings. So that does suggest that there is a potential for more long-term changes in the air.

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