Farm Bill angst sparks low-key effort to replace House committee chair

Some House Democrats say Scott has been unable to maintain control over routine committee hearings to prevent Republicans from flouting Democrats on key priorities such as climate-related farm programs and their bill in social spending now blocked by $ 1.7 trillion.

A bill markup in September became so out of order that several House Democrats took the rare step of raising their concerns to the House leadership offices in an effort to replace Scott as Speaker before he opens discussions on the next farm bill in the coming weeks, according to Seven Members of the House are well aware of the situation.

In interviews or via a spokesperson, the top three House Democrats – Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn (DS.C.) – each said the concerns were not raised with them and they expressed their trust Scott, giving no reason for the fears. about Scott’s abilities or the idea of ​​replacing him.

Scott, in a telephone interview this week, dismissed questions about his health as the actions of “a group of future presidents” who are taking advantage of his physical health problems to stage a mutiny.

“You have people out there who want to be president and they see you with a cane to help you with your mobility,” Scott said, adding that he recently had leg surgery. “People shouldn’t believe that you are having a little trouble with your leg to deny yourself an opportunity. “

Scott has said he has no plans to step down from Congress.

But more than a dozen lawmakers and aides interviewed by POLITICO detailed growing frustrations over some of his decisions as he led the committee of 27 Democrats and 24 Republicans. They also reported cases of her inability to finish her thoughts or remember previous conversations.

“I have the utmost respect for President Scott,” said a Democrat on the committee. “But he could do a better job.” The person added: “I don’t necessarily know if it’s his health or what, but something is wrong.”

This lawmaker described speaking with Scott last November about the details of a bill in a conversation where Scott seemed attentive and engaged. Days later, lawmakers were shocked at how difficult it was for Scott to have a conversation on the same bill. He seemed to lose his focus, was at times unable to find the words to complete his thoughts and didn’t seem to remember ever discussing legislation before, the lawmaker said. Scott’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the incident.

A House Democrat recently attempted to intervene directly with Scott, according to five of the House Democrats interviewed for the story. They said the member, who other lawmakers would not name, spoke with Scott about specific issues about his health to try to persuade him to give up the hammer ahead of the farm bill talks.

Scott was not receptive to the message, according to one of the Five Democrats, who was briefed on the meeting by the lawmaker who met with Scott. Scott, in a telephone interview, denied being aware of such a meeting. Scott’s office says that didn’t happen.

Several Democrats, including members of the black and Hispanic caucuses, said subcommittee chairs will likely take on more of the work of negotiating elements of the farm bill with Scott in charge.

“It’s not really his physical health. He has trouble getting around, ”said another Democrat on the agriculture panel. “But there are real questions as to whether he is with this.”

In a press briefing last July, Scott struggled to deliver the basic facts on a bill the committee just introduced. He claimed, spontaneously, that the bill had 42 co-sponsors, when in reality it had none. He made several other mistakes before an assistant stepped in and brought the event to an end. Scott has not responded to questions from reporters with similar media availability since. Aides cites her busy schedule as one of the reasons.

Scott did not reveal any serious health problems. His office says the Congressional attending physician deemed him to be in good health.

“I am as strong and dynamic as a roaring lion,” he said in a telephone interview. “These are people who want this job.

Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) Is one of the members who privately expressed concerns about Scott with colleagues, according to two people familiar with the conversations. Costa raced against Scott for first place on the Agriculture Committee and would be among the next to take over.

In a statement to POLITICO, Costa did not dispute that he raised questions about the president with other members, but said he “respects[s] the hard work that Chairman Scott does on the committee.

“It is important that Democratic members work with the president as we traditionally do on issues impacting the heart of America,” added Costa. “He has my support. “

Concerns about Scott’s ability to lead the committee in the grueling months ahead are an open secret to people in other parts of the federal government – including two officials from the Department of Agriculture and three senior Senate officials. – say they have discussed similar concerns in their offices.

“It’s alarming,” said a USDA staff member who has known Scott for more than a decade.

In a statement, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he had “complete faith and confidence” in Scott’s ability to lead the committee.

“Since my return to office, Scott has been a strong partner in advancing our aggressive agenda to support our farmers, ranchers and producers, tackle food and nutrition insecurity, tackle climate change and get results for the people. American on a slew of other issues, ”Vilsack said. “I look forward to continuing to work with him in the future. “

As chairman of the House agriculture committee, Scott is expected to lead this year’s negotiations on hundreds of billions of dollars in farm aid, nutritional assistance and related programs. The Farm Bill, which will expire in 2023, has far-reaching ramifications for all aspects of American agriculture and rural life. The upcoming reauthorization process is particularly critical for Democrats, who hope to shape the first talks before the House potentially switches to the GOP in November.

If the Republicans took control of the committee, Scott would still have a prominent role as a prominent member. The concern is that Republicans and the agriculture industry could push Democrats aside during talks.

“I think [House leaders] believes that there must be a change according to its capacity, that there will be a change before the farm law. It’s too big, ”said a Democrat on the committee.

But House leaders are showing no signs that they plan to intervene before discussions on the farm bill.

“The president has confidence in President Scott’s leadership,” Pelosi deputy chief of staff Drew Hammill said in a statement. “No such concerns were raised by members to our office. “

Hoyer and Clyburn, House Democrats No.2 and No.3, both said in brief interviews that they were unaware of the situation and were unaware of any efforts to replace Scott to the presidency.

“I haven’t heard anything of this nature,” Hoyer said. “He has a mobility problem, but he doesn’t have a thinking problem. That’s for sure. I talked to him a lot.

“I have full confidence in David Scott,” Clyburn said in a follow-up phone call.

Some House Democrats have pushed back questions about Scott’s leadership, especially his heavy reliance on assistants during committee hearings and criticism of his lack of control over several contentious committee meetings.

“Even to chair a subcommittee, you often need the help of experienced staff and the parliamentarian,” said Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.). “But I found him very good at leading the committee hearings.”

Acting against Scott, a highly regarded member of the Congressional Black Caucus, would cause significant trouble for House leaders who are themselves all in their 80s. Scott, a Blue Dog Democrat from Georgia, has strong bipartisan credentials.

In the interview, Scott said he was “very proud” to be the first black chair of the committee. He touted the committee’s accomplishments so far under his control, including steps to expand funding for climate programs, rural broadband, and 1,890 African American colleges and universities.

“It was I who provided this leadership,” said Scott.

When asked if House leaders raised these issues directly with him or his staff, Scott replied, “I didn’t hear anything except everyone said, ‘David, you do. great work.

Representative Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said her group “has full confidence in the chair and is watching[s] looking forward to his continued leadership.

Representative Alma Adams (DN.C.), vice-chair of the Agriculture Committee and its longest-serving black member after Scott, said “I don’t know what you are talking about” when asked questions on internal concerns about its state of readiness.

“He has my full support and confidence and I look forward to continuing to work with him on the committee,” said Rep. Sanford Bishop, a Democratic colleague from Georgia.

A former member of the House agriculture committee acknowledged some of the concerns about Scott, but added that they were not uncommon for a senior lawmaker.

“We’ve seen this happen with other members, people don’t necessarily talk about it,” the former staff member said.

The person asked why lawmakers questioned Scott’s ability to lead the committee when several former committee chairs grappled with similar concerns – noting that they were white and not subject to the same scrutiny.

Scott announced his intention to run for office last fall and reiterated this week that he would not be retiring. But some Democrats polled speculated that he could still change course and leave Congress, following more than two dozen other caucus members who chose to leave the House before a likely takeover of the GOP this fall.

Ximena Bustillo and Helena Bottemiller Evich contributed to this report.

Comments are closed.