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With Democratic House Control, A Look At How Freshmen Lawmakers Get Assignments

Andrew Harnik
Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., right, accompanied by Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., second from left, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 16, 2018.

Recently elected members of Congress start their new jobs on Jan. 3, 2019. U.S. Congressman Mike Doyle (PA-18) is part of the group that assigns incoming House members to policy committees, which play a key role in shaping legislation.

It’s a particularly busy transition, as the House will shift from Republican to Democratic control. That change will be reflected at the committee level too, as Republicans lose committee seats to Democrats.


For example, Doyle said, “There were eight more Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee than Democrats. Now, because we’ve taken over the House of Representatives, that flips.”


Eight new Pennsylvania legislators were elected in 2018, including western Pennsylvania's Guy Reschenthaler (PA-14) and Conor Lamb (PA-17).


Doyle has met with members of the Pennsylvania delegation, and talked with them about their committee interests. The Democrat said freshmen often ask to be on high-powered committees like Ways and Means or Intelligence, but that it’s very unlikely they’ll get those seats.


Incumbents get assigned to committees first, followed by newly-elected members. Candidates who were elected in special elections in 2018, like Lamb, are prioritized over freshmen.

“[Democrats] have been in the minority since 2010,” Doyle said. “So if you’re a [Democrat] elected in 2010, you’ve been in the minority your entire career so far, and there haven’t been slots on these select committees.”

Doyle was first elected to Congress in 1994, when Republicans gained control of the House for the first time in decades. He remembered how there weren’t many committee slots available for new Democratic members. Now, first-time Republican members of Congress, like Reschenthaler, are in a similar situation.


“[H]e’s coming from a state legislature: I think he’s someone that understands that process and I’m sure he’ll hit the ground running and find himself a committee assignment,” said Doyle.


He expects assignments to be complete sometime in January.


Doyle himself will chair the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, a branch of the Energy and Commerce Committee which deals with issues like net neutrality.