With the Democrats making inroads in South Florida on their way to flipping the U.S. House, that region is going to have a major shift when it comes to its influence on Capitol Hill when the new Congress convenes.
Whatever happened on Election Day, the retirement of Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was going to be felt. First elected in a special election back in 1989, Ros-Lehtinen proved to be a formidable figure on Capitol Hill, becoming the first woman to lead the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a fierce critic of tyrannical regimes and governments that fund terrorism. Incoming Democrat Congresswoman Donna Shalala has a higher profile than the usual congressional freshman thanks to her time as HHS secretary but she will have a long way to go to match Ros-Lehtinen’s clout on Capitol Hill.
Another loss for the South Florida delegation was Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo’s defeat. While he broke with President Donald Trump on a host of issues–something the president called him out on last week–Curbelo was already on the powerful Ways and Means Committee despite only being in his second term. The GOP House leadership clearly liked Curbelo but their efforts fell short last week as he lost to Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. It’s tough to imagine the new leadership pushing Mucarsel-Powell as quickly as the GOP did Curbelo.
While he’s staying in Congress where he has been since 2001, Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart clout took a hit with the GOP losing its majority. With his seniority, Diaz-Balart should stay on the House Appropriations Committee but he won’t be holding the gavel on the House Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations Subcommittee. This could be a major loss for South Florida, especially if the administration finally pushes for $1 trillion for transportation and infrastructure over ten years, something that Trump proposed on the campaign trail in 2016 but which hasn’t quite developed even though Elaine Chao–an old hand in Washington and the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell–heads up the Transportation Department.
Republican Congressman Francis Rooney won a second term but his influence will diminish now that the Democrats are in control. Rooney had an impressive first term, relying on his background in the international sphere to make his mark, even rising to become the vice chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, no mean feat for a freshman.
One of the big winners in Florida on Election Day was Democrat Congressman Alcee Hastings and it had nothing to do with his running over a write in candidate. With the Democrats now in charge of the House, Hastings, one of the senior members for his party on the House Rules Committee, is expected to wield great influence there. As the ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Legislative and Budget Process, which oversees how Congress deals with the White House, Hastings is set to wield the gavel there. Republicans point to Hastings’various corruption scandals which led to his impeachment from the federal bench–but right now he probably has more influence than he ever has wielded in his more than a quarter century on Capitol Hill.
South Florida Democrat Congressman Ted Deutch will also benefit from the change of control. Deutch currently leads Democrats on the House Ethics Committee and also sits on the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees. He’s shown a knack for working with South Florida Republicans, including leading the Climate Solutions Caucus with Curbelo. As the ranking Democrat on the House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, Deutch worked well with Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen on helping key allies like Israel and Jordan. From that perch, Deutch was one of the most prominent Democrats to break with then President Barack Obama over the nuclear deal with Iran. With Democrats taking over, Deutch should be a power on Capitol Hill
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s bids to move up the the leadership ladder were probably hindered by her poor leadership at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the left not forgetting her efforts to undermine Bernie Sanders in 2016. Still, she will wield more influence in Congress from her seats on the Appropriations and Budget Committees. She currently leads Democrats on the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee. If she winds up with the gavel there, her influence should continue to expand.
Other South Florida Democrats will also benefit as Nancy Pelosi returns as speaker of the House. While she garnered attention from her endless collection of colorful hats and clashing with Trump over his handling of the death of Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in action in Niger last year, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson does lead Democrats on the Education and Workforce Protections Subcommittee and could take over there. A little bit north, Congresswoman Lois Frankel has been a key leader of the DCCC and the Congressional Women’s Caucus in recent years and her power will grow on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee. Perhaps more importantly to the Sunshine State, Frankel could be a major player on the Highways and Transportation and the Water Resources and the Environment Subcommittee.
Democrats from the Sunshine State aren’t lining up to be part of the incoming House leadership team but they might have chances down the road if their party remains in control in the coming years. Remember, the three top House Democrats–Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn–are all in their late 70s while Joe Clyburn from their leadership team got knocked off this year in the primary. There might be chances for a House Democrat from the Sunshine State to move up sooner rather than later.