Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, the ranking Democratic member of the House Financial Services Committee who announced Monday that he'll be retiring from Congress next year, was one of the most polarizing and outspoken members of Congress. But he might be replaced by someone who is just as adept at grabbing headlines. With Frank set to retire after the 2012 elections, California Rep. Maxine Waters is next in line to replace him. If she is tapped by the party to lead the Democratic side of the committee, the liberal firebrand will have a powerful and coveted position in Congress.
Waters issued a statement praising Frank but stopping short of announcing plans to push for her own appointment in his spot—which wouldn't be determined until a new Congress comes back to Washington in 2013.
"As the next most senior member of the committee, the current ranking member on the Capital Markets subcommittee and the former chair of the Housing and Community Opportunity subcommittee, I hope to use my experience to continue and expand his work in the committee," Waters said.
But Waters may face some resistance on her path to the top spot. An investigation into whether she broke conflict-of-interest rules by pushing for federal aid for OneUnited Bank, where her husband served as a board member, was sidelined by partisan squabbles and allegations of prosecutorial misconduct on the House Ethics Committee last year. An outside counsel was hired to continue the investigation and is expected to report back to the committee by early 2012—about the allegations against Waters as well questions about the committee's own conduct.
"It's very messy. If we were talking about her getting the [ranking member] position tomorrow, I'd say it was inappropriate," says Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics is Washington. "But in January of 2013, there will be more information one way or another."
Waters' history as a lightning rod with controversial statements—such as earlier this year, when she said the Tea Party movement could "go straight to hell"—will also likely be a factor as well, but probably isn't enough, on its own, to derail her appointment. As a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Waters will likely receive strong support from the organization.
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