Shalala takes on Democratic attack role

Alex Daugherty, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

"I love debating," Shalala said. "Remember I teach, so I'm used to explaining things. You have to obviously respond to the other side and you manage the speakers on the subject, and if there's additional time, then you actually debate."

Though other committees will contain a slim majority of Democrats after they won 54 percent of seats in the 2018 elections, nine of the 13 Rules Committee members are Democrats to ensure that Pelosi and Democratic leadership won't be blindsided if one or two Democrats go rogue. Republicans operate the committee in a similar fashion when they're in power, though Shalala has been assured that the committee's habit of meeting in the middle of the night during big-time debates won't happen under Democratic leadership.

"We have somebody with incredible expertise ... who will be a fierce defender of the ACA and a fierce advocate for increasing health care protections for everybody," McGovern said. "There's no learning curve. She's ready to hit the ground running, as evidenced by the fact that she's ready to handle this rule."

Shalala's public-facing role with plenty of camera time will give Republicans lots of fodder if they decide to mount a 2020 challenge to her in a district that was held by Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for 29 years. But President Donald Trump's unpopularity in Miami, along with a presidential election-year electorate, could mean that the biggest threat to Shalala's re-election chances is a left-leaning primary challenger. She won the 2018 primary by single digits. In that case, the partisan attack-dog work on the Rules Committee could help her politically.

Shalala's assignment isn't the only leadership change among South Florida lawmakers. Broward Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch will lead the House Ethics Committee, a largely behind-the-scenes role for a committee that conducts investigations within Congress. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio was chosen to lead the Senate Small Business Committee on Wednesday, a body that oversees the Small Business Administration.

But Shalala's work will be part of the Democrats' messaging strategy for pushing partisan bills ahead of the 2020 election. The Rules package Shalala debated with the Obamacare provision in it passed with just three Republican votes out of a possible 199. Every Democrat who showed up voted for it.

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After the debate ended, Cole walked across the aisle to congratulate Shalala for debating her first bill. Then, first year Rep. Tim Burchett, a Tennessee Republican Shalala met during new member orientation and she referred to as "her buddy," stepped between the pair.

"She'll smile as she's cutting your throat," Burchett said.

(c)2019 McClatchy Washington Bureau

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