Those tears Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi is shedding for the recently deceased Rep. Robert Matsui are certainly real, but only last month the House Democratic leadership was looking for a way to ease the Sacramento (Calif.) Democrat out of his leadership job as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
"Weeks ago she was looking at who to plug into that slot," says a senior Democratic House leadership staffer. "It was an open secret that there was going to be a change at DCCC even though Congressman Matsui seemed to want to stay on. Not many people knew about his sickness, so it makes the behavior of some in Democratic leadership even more reprehensible."
Matsui took the job at Pelosi's urging two years ago, after she passed over more qualified House candidates for the critical job of fundraising and recruiting Democratic candidates for the House. At the time, Pelosi was under pressure from more moderate Democrats to bring in then-Rep. Martin Frost to fill the DCCC job. Instead, she tabbed Matsui, a signal many Democrats took to mean the new leader was interested in only political yes men in her corner.
Matsui, whose wife Doris is a Washington lobbyist and former Clinton White House staffer, was an able fundraiser, but he failed to help Democrats retake the House or to even nibble away at the Republican majority.
According to another House Democratic staffer, the party leadership was looking for a way to elevate Matsui to a new kind of post that would have had him spearheading and coordinating the House Democrats' fight against the Bush administration's Social Security reform efforts. As it stood, Matsui was the ranking member of the Ways and Means subcommittee that handled Social Security, and he had spoken post election day about his readiness to lead the fight for his party.
In the past weeks, Pelosi operatives have sounded out both Reps. Mike Thompson of California and Joseph Crowley of New York about filling the DCCC slot, even though Matsui had not announced his intentions publicly. Now both are seeking the DCCC job.
As for filling Matsui's House seat, a number of California Democrats have already begun floating Doris Matsui's name as a potential candidate in a special election, the date of which will be set within the next two weeks by Governor Schwarzenegger.
The shakeup of below cabinet-level posts in the Bush administration that everyone in town has been expecting should begin within the next week, according to White House sources.
Already a number of senior White House staff in both the President's and Vice President's office are poised either to take new jobs within the administration or to leave for K Street dollars.
"It's the domino effect and we're going to see a lot of new faces," says a White House staffer. "It was inevitable, but this time around it just took a bit longer."
First priority for the new jobs will go to campaign workers and those currently providing support for the President's inauguration. From there it is expected that the Washington version of musical chairs will commence.
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