Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) won't take the helm of the House Ways and Means Committee after top Dems expressed worry he would become a lightening rod for controversy and GOP criticism.
Stark was in line to take the post from Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY), who stepped down yesterday amid ethics controversies. In his place, Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), the third-ranking Dem on the panel, will take over.
Stark has a history of making controversial statements. Last year, during a town hall meeting, he told a constituent who opposed health care reform that he wouldn't "dignify you by peeing on your leg. It wouldn't be worth wasting the urine."
In private meetings yesterday, DCCC chair Chris Van Hollen and other Dems expressed their concern to Stark and openly wondered whether he would be able to win a vote of the full Dem caucus. Stark agreed to step aside after those meetings, sources told Hotline OnCall.
Levin, by the way, will have some help as he figures out how to wield his first gavel over a full committee. His brother, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), chairs the upper chamber's Armed Services Committee.
Too bad; I've always had a special liking for the irascible Stark. He's the only self-avowed atheist in congress, and a very outspoken "no bullshit" liberal. It would have been quite entertaining to watch him chair the heavily lobbied 'Ways and Means' committee, which is among the most significant posts in congress.
(Disclosure: I've had many contacts with congressman Stark over the years; he represents the district where my mother lived, and defeated my father for a state assembly seat many, many years ago. I've always admired his integrity and liked him personally.)