(Updated 3 p.m.) U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd confirmed this afternoon that he will remain in charge of the Banking Committee.
Following U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy’s death there had been questions about whether Dodd would assume the role as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee or remain chairman of the Banking Committee.
Based on recent history, it should come as no surprise that Dodd will choose to remain as chairman of the Banking Committee.
Last year when then-U.S. Sen. Joe Biden was sworn in as vice president Dodd was faced with a similar choice between assuming the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or remaining chairman of the Banking Committee. He chose the Banking Committee that time too.
“As the United States senator from Connecticut, there’s no more important way right now that I could serve the people of my state than to serve as the chairman of the Banking Committee,” Dodd said at a Nov. 6, 2008 press conference. “In the 22 months that I’ve served as the chairman of the committee, a difficult time for our country, obviously, we’ve made some important progress.”
In a conference call Wednesday afternoon Dodd said his decision not to take over the HELP committee chairmanship and replace his best friend Ted Kennedy is something that “weighed on me heavily.”
“But I have a job to do on the Banking Committee,” Dodd said. “I felt my responsibility was to get the Banking Committee issues resolved.”
However, Dodd said he would stay involved with the HELP committee as its senior member.
“Obviously you can’t chair two committees,” Dodd said. “I had to make a call.”
The move is certain to have an impact on his 2010 re-election campaign.
Even before Dodd made his announcement Wednesday afternoon at least two of his Republican challengers had sent out emails criticizing his handling of both the national health care bill and the economy.
“Sen. Dodd’s botched oversight of the Banking and Housing committee, influenced by millions of dollars in lobbyist and financial services industry campaign donations, led to the greatest economic calamity of our lifetime,” former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons said in a press release. “The American people can have no confidence in Dodd’s ability to lead a serious finance reform effort unless and until he returns all of the campaign contributions he has received from the financial services industry and their lobbyists during his current term and refuses all future donations.”
State Sen. Sam Caligiuri whose campaign had called on Dodd to reject the chairmanship of the HELP committee said, “It is a shame that it has taken him this long to realize that he should have been focusing on our economic problems instead of stumping for an ill-advised piece of health care legislation.”
As far as the criticism from his Republican opponents, Dodd said “campaigns are campaigns.” He said he understands he has opponents and those opponents are going to try and play politics, but he defended his actions as chairman of the Banking Committee.
“I assumed the chairmanship of this committee in January of ‘07. One of the very first things we did was go after the issue of the mortgage crisis, but for a year under the Bush administration I couldn’t get anyone to pay attention to the issue until finally the summer of ‘08,” Dodd said. “We inherited a whole set of problems.”
“After the 8 years of the Bush administration where they deregulated or failed to police the regulations they had in hand and we ended up with the mess we did,” Dodd said. “That’s the realty of it. People who want to suggest otherwise are obviously just engaged in politics.”
Local advocates and state officials congratulated Dodd on his decision Wednesday.
Deputy Director of the Connecticut Citizens Action Group Phil Sherwood issued a statement praising Dodd’s decision to stay as the head of the Banking Committee.
“Senator Dodd has championed consumer rights his whole career,” Sherwood said. “During this time of economic hardship there is no better person in the Senate to advocate for consumers.”
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal also praised Dodd for his decision saying, “This decision means that a committed consumer advocate will be the key Senate leader in advocating reform of our financial regulatory system.”
“Connecticut citizens will benefit from having Sen. Dodd fighting for financial reform and giving special voice to our views and needs,” Blumenthal added in an emailed statement.