Cardin is a key player in congressional transition

November 18, 1994|By Nelson Schwartz | Nelson Schwartz,Contributing Writer

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat, was chosen yesterday to help lead the delicate job of transferring power in the House to the Republicans after four decades of Democratic control.

Mr. Cardin will chair a team of seven Democrats who will work with Republicans to ensure that they soon have the files and other information they will need to run the House.

Mr. Cardin's committee is also expected to deal with such thorny issues as a possible Republican-ordered reorganization of the House and the divvying up of limited staff and office space. "The nation expects a smooth transfer of power in Congress, and we will be working to make sure that's exactly what happens," Mr. Cardin said.

Meanwhile, another Maryland Democrat, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, has emerged as the leading candidate to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which will be spearheading the party's effort to win back control of the House in 1996. Mr. Hoyer will also serve on Mr. Cardin's transition committee.

For many members of Congress, Republican control represents a step into the unknown. The Republicans haven't controlled the House in 40 years, and the shift after last week's vote stunned Democratic leaders and the White House alike.

As a Democrat assigned to oversee the details of yielding his party's power, Mr. Cardin conceded that his new job will be a sensitive one. "This is a very difficult assignment," he said. "The anxiety level is high. It's a difficult audience."

"I didn't ask for the job," he said. Mr. Cardin said he believed his selection by Democratic leaders was due to his experience as a former speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates and as a member of the House Administration Committee, which oversees how the House is run. Mr. Cardin also shares the Republican leadership's view that the time has come to change how Congress works by cutting staff and reducing committees.

In a letter late last week to Rep. Newt Gingrich, who will become House speaker, Mr. Cardin said at least seven House committees "do not have sufficient legislative jurisdiction to justify their existence." The multitude of different panels, Mr. Cardin said, "makes the legislative process more cumbersome and less efficient."

If Mr. Hoyer wins the job of chairman of the Democratic campaign committee, he will take over the committee as it confronts a new mission. For years, the committee had only to preserve Democratic control of the House. Now, it will have to start working to try to wrest power back from the GOP in 1996, even as the Democrats fight to keep hold of the presidency.

Democratic officials said Mr. Hoyer was at the top of list of candidates for the job, which a top party aide described as "incredibly time-consuming. It takes a member who is really willing to go above and beyond the call of duty."

In the new job, Mr. Hoyer, the outgoing head of the House Democratic Caucus, would help raise millions of dollars and provide advice for Democratic incumbents and challengers from across the country.

Another Marylander, Rep. Kweisi Mfume of Baltimore, made a bid Monday for the third-ranking post in the House Democratic leadership by challenging Rep. Vic Fazio of California for the chairmanship of the caucus.

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