Massachusetts Delegation Is Eyeing Reins Of Power In U.S. House

Congresswoman-elect Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., left, stands with U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., during an election night watch party in Boston, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Michael Dwyer/AP)
Congresswoman-elect Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., left, stands with U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., during an election night watch party in Boston, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

Massachusetts holds only nine of 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, but after eight years in the political wilderness the state's all-Democrat delegation is suddenly playing an outsized role in both the leadership and palace intrigue of the incoming Congress.

Among the nine are two presumed committee chairmen, a rising star in the freshman class, another rising star on the Democratic Party leadership ladder, and a leader of an insurgent wing inside the Democratic Party.

All that and a Kennedy, too.

One Massachusetts representative playing a critical role is Richard Neal, set to step into the role of chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Neal, who represents western Massachusetts, rose up the party ranks during his nearly three decades in office.

While the committee has a range of tasks — from tax policy to helping oversee Social Security and Medicare — Neal has also pledged to seek the release of President Trump's tax returns.

"Legally, it meets the law," Neal said after the midterm elections last month. "I hope that the president would do this on his own."

Jim McGovern, whose district includes Worcester, is also on route to chair an influential panel — the Rules Committee.

McGovern, first elected in 1996, has already indicated he would allow a House debate on marijuana laws. Massachusetts and other states have legalized the recreational or medicinal use of the drug.

Another Massachusetts representative moving up the Democrat leadership ladder has served for far fewer years.

Katherine Clark, first elected in 2013, has been elected vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, a post that could be a stepping stone to a higher rung on the leadership ladder.

Clark helped spearhead the party's successful "Red to Blue" initiative that aimed at flipping seats in the midterm elections.

Clark said that as vice chair she's eager to get to work "protecting Social Security and Medicare, improving access to affordable, quality health care, and ensuring equal pay for equal work."

Massachusetts also found itself at the nexus of two other narratives of the midterm elections: the election of more women and the push against Nancy Pelosi as House speaker.


One of those newly elected women is Ayanna Pressley, who won a seat in the House by beating a fellow Democrat — longtime U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano.

"I don't think leadership is simply about seniority and years of service, nor is it about having a comma and title after your name," Pressley said this week at an event with fellow incoming Democratic representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Lori Trahan of Massachusetts. Pressley said she sees power in the "rising up of the citizen activist or the movement builders."

Trahan — along with Pressley and Clark — make up the largest number of women the state has elected to the House in one cycle.

Massachusetts has also found itself at the center of the House leadership fight with Rep. Seth Moulton helping lead the opposition.

Although Pelosi is within range of the 218 votes needed in January to be elected speaker when Congress convenes, Moulton is pressing ahead.

Last week Moulton said he could support Pelosi for speaker — but only if she and the two top members of her leadership team agree to step down after a year and hold new elections.

And as Democrats prepare to take the reins in the House, another Massachusetts representative with a storied last name — Joe Kennedy — is urging they adopt a "moral capitalism" to combat Trump's zero-sum game economic views, which Kennedy said forces citizens to "endlessly spar over the scraps of our system."

He's also chided the more extreme voices in the party.

"For years, the left has failed to offer a competing — compelling — economic vision," Kennedy said in a recent speech to a regional business group. "We'll have to do more than tax the rich to meet our needs in infrastructure, childcare, health care, college and climate change."



More from WBUR

Listen Live