Democrats' Fear of Issa Could Spell House Oversight Panel Shake-Up

With Issa slated to chair powerful committee, Democrats seek forceful opponent.

Nov. 12, 2010 — -- A growing number of House Democrats do not want Rep. Ed Towns, D-N.Y., to retain the party's top post on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee when Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., takes over the panel's reins in January, ABC News has learned.

Towns' critics believe that Democrats will need a stronger presence representing them in what likely will be numerous fights with the GOP's rising star, Issa, as the lower chamber's top investigative committee falls into Republican hands this winter, two Congressional sources familiar with the panel told ABC News.

"I think a lot of people in our party are thinking it's a good idea to look beyond Towns for ranking member," said a senior Democratic aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Over the last two years, with Towns chairing the panel and Issa serving as the ranking Republican, Issa "ran roughshod" over the New York lawmaker, the other source said.

In addition to fears among House Democrats, the White House also has concerns about Towns leading the party's fight against Issa, the source said.

But that notion was shot down by a spokesman for the Obama administration. The White House spokesman said the White House has "a productive working relationship" with Towns and officials "fully expect that to continue."

Even though the wheels are in motion to push out Towns, doing so will not be easy. If Towns, an African-American, were to lose the top Democratic spot on the panel, that could cause unrest among members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Out of the possible likely replacements for Towns -- Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.; Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.; and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio -- only Cummings is African-American.

Further complicating matters is another internal Democratic fight, as Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the most powerful African-American in Congress, duel for the party's number-two leadership spot.

While Towns, Maloney and Kucinich jockey for position for the post on the House panel, Cummings is staying patient and letting the process unfold before he takes a stand, an approach that should come as no surprise. Two years ago, numerous Democrats encouraged Cummings to run for the chairmanship of the oversight committee, but he declined in deference to Towns, who had seniority.

Towns now is speaking out in an effort to keep his job on the investigative panel. On Friday, he sent a letter to colleagues asking for their support in his push to hold on to his post.

"I will continue an aggressive oversight agenda focused on creating jobs in America, eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse, and working with the Obama administration to continue the growth of our nation's economy," Towns said. "I will also work closely with my fellow Democrats to form a bulwark against any politically motivated investigations. Any attempt to use this committee as a political weapon to tear down this administration is intolerable and I will use every tool at my disposal to ensure this does not occur."

If Towns secures enough support to keep the panel's top Democratic post, he will have his hands full with the confrontational, aggressive Issa when the GOP lawmaker takes over the committee in January.

The California congressman repeatedly has vowed to pursue a vigorous oversight agenda, recently telling ABC News' George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America" that "this administration has failed to be accountable, failed to be transparent, failed to do what they said they were going to do."