WASHINGTON (CNN) - Just hours after Democrats celebrated an expanded majority in the House of Representatives, a public fight erupted for the leadership of a key committee charged with enacting many of President-elect Barack Obama's agenda items.
House Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Ca, is challenging Michigan Democratic Congressman John Dingell for the chairmanship of the powerful Energy and Commerce committee.
In a written statement released Wednesday Waxman, who is the next senior Democrat on the committee, said: "When the new Congress starts in January, we will face unprecedented opportunities and challenges. The public expects Congress and President-elect Obama to work together to find solutions to the nation's most pressing problems. But the issues we will confront are immensely difficult. We will need the very best leadership in Congress and our committees
Waxman's statement also focused on the most controversial issues the committee will face, making the case he could get these measures passed.
"Enacting comprehensive energy, climate, and health care reform will not be easy. But my record shows that I have the skill and ability to build consensus and deliver legislation that improves the lives of all Americans."
Waxman called Dingell this morning to tell him that he would be running for committee chairman. Dingell did not expect a challenge to the post. Since he got the news, Dingell has been calling Democrats on his committee and asking for their support.
Jodi Seth, Dingell's spokeswoman at the committee, criticized Waxman's move.
"This is unhealthy, and does not benefit the party in any way. Tearing a leadership apart is something the Republicans should be doing after their big loss; it shouldn't be the first order of business for the Democrats after a historic election," Seth said.
Dingell, who is 82, will become the longest serving member in the history of the House of Representatives next February. He's a strong supporter of auto companies based in his district and is considered conservative on energy issues. Waxman, who is friendlier to environmental concerns, is closer to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi's office did not comment on the story.
Committee chairmanships in the House need to be approved by the full House Democratic Caucus, but are considered first by the House Steering and Policy Committee, a group appointed by Pelosi.