Maxine Waters’ new challenge: AOC and freshman upstarts
To be certain, the freshmen share many positions with Waters. “Auntie Maxine,” as she is affectionately known by her supporters, has used her committee gavel to refocus the panel’s agenda on protecting consumers and expanding opportunities for minorities. Waters, a Los Angeles Democrat, has summoned powerful Wall Street executives to testify at hearings, giving her new members — especially Ocasio-Cortez and Porter — an opportunity to go viral with fierce questioning of financiers and Trump administration officials.
But the new members have not always fallen in line with the chairwoman, and the tensions have become increasingly apparent to others on the committee.
“Body language says a lot,” said Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.), a senior committee member.
In general, Ocasio-Cortez told POLITICO, there has been a tendency to give priority to “conservative seat needs” out of protection for swing-state members.
“It’s always very tough,” she said.
Waters’ office did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
One aide to a progressive freshman on the committee said Waters’ staff faced a difficult task in “wrangling a very wide range of perspectives in the caucus.” While there has been some tension between her staff and progressive offices over process issues, progressives’ frustration is also with the moderates.
Waters’ committee staff, the aide said, “put a lot of work into getting powerful witnesses to testify for a hearing examining private equity, for instance, only to have a significant portion of Dem members give industry a pass,” the aide said.
Waters and Porter, a protege of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have had the most open conflict among the freshman group.
Porter, a former professor who flipped a Republican-held seat in Orange County last year, has battled with Waters over her use of visual aids at committee hearings.
Waters, prompted by committee Republicans, has stopped Porter from using the props when questioning witnesses at hearings, warning Porter that she’s violating committee rules.
“We’ve talked about this before,” Waters told Porter after asking her to put down a “Financial Services Bingo” board at a debt collection hearing in September.
Porter shot back: “Are we adding additional committee rules at this time?”
Porter, who has emerged as a progressive luminary in her own right, has argued that visual aids help her better engage with the public on big economic policy issues. She said at a recent housing conference that the committee’s suggested questions for hearings usually aren’t “spicy enough for me.”
The debate has at least given her fodder for the late-night talk show circuit.
“The chairwoman overruled my use of this,” Porter told “Late Night” host Seth Meyers as he held up the bingo board that Waters shut down.
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), a senior Financial Services member who’s part of the moderate New Democrat Coalition, said Waters should be the last word on committee rules.
“We should all respect the chairwoman,” he said. “In the courtroom, the judge controls the decorum.”
The tensions escalated in October when Waters was trying to rally Democrats to approve legislation to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, the beleaguered agency that guarantees loans for U.S. goods sold abroad.