Concerns by fellow members of the House Ways and Means Committee over Rep. Pete Stark's politics, background and history of controversial statements led to the surprise decision Thursday to have another congressman replace the embattled Rep. Charles B. Rangel as the committee chairman.
Stark (D-Fremont) had been in line for the powerful post after Rangel announced Wednesday that he was stepping down until a House ethics panel finished investigating him.
Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) will be the acting chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced to her caucus on Thursday.
The startling announcement comes a day after Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) appeared ready to take the reins of the committee from Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.).
Stark was the next in line for the post in terms of seniority, but some panel members recoiled at the idea of his leading the committee. Stark is known for making controversial and eccentric remarks, and in 2007 he apologized on the House floor for comments about President George W. Bush and the Iraq War.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who serves on the panel and in leadership as Assistant to the Speaker, acknowledged there had been "lively discussions" on Wednesday about the initial decision to have Stark bcome acting chairman.
The shuffling of chairmen is sure to raise questions about how Pelosi handled the issue, but at a Thursday press conference, she said she wanted to look forward.
"The problems of the last few days, they're behind us...we have a new chairman of the Ways and Means Committee," she said.
Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.) said Pelosi (D-Calif.) made the announcement at a meeting of the caucus this morning.
Etheridge said Ways and Means members gave their unanimous backing to Levin, a Michigan Democrat who has been chairman of the Subcommittee on Trade.
Stark cast his decision to step aside as a desire to remain as the chairman of the Subcommittee on Health.
"I worked my whole career on this, and I don't want to do that [become chairman of Ways and Means]," he told The Hill. "So Sandy moves up."
Stark sent a letter to Pelosi announcing his resignation as acting chairman, according to a spokesman for the panel. That would be the second such letter Pelosi had received from a Ways and Means chairman in about 24 hours.
Levin, 78, is a soft-spoken member serving his 13th term in Congress. His younger brother is Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Levin said he would serve as the acting chairman of the committee until the ethics panel completes its investigation of Rangel, who stepped down on what he said was a temporary basis on Wednesday.
But most observers question whether Rangel, who faces a number of ethics charges, will ever regain the chairmanship. (continues here)