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Two things should be clear about Irvine, California sophomore congresswoman Katie Porter. As a freshman lawmaker, she was an absolute star on the Financial Services Committee and the reason she no longer serves on that committee is entirely her fault.

Educated at Phillips Academy and Yale, Porter is a professor and attorney with a Harvard law degree. She’s also a 47 year old single mother of three whose politics are decidedly progressive, especially for the traditionally Republican Orange County district she represents.

In the U.S. Congress, she quickly gained notice through her sharp questioning of Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. She humiliated Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director Kathy Kraninger by exposing their ignorance about issues under their purview.

Her compelling performances went viral and earned her a dedicated following, helping to explain why she was one of the top fundraisers in the 2020 election cycle. However, as Jennifer Haberkorn of the Los Angeles Times explains,  behind the scenes Porter clashed with committee chairwoman Maxine Waters:

The first time Porter tried to use a poster board in the committee, Waters upheld a Republican objection, citing committee rules. When Porter came back to another hearing with a “Financial Services bingo” board, Waters again told her to take it down. “We’ve talked about this before,” she said.

Porter balked at Waters’ ruling. “Are we adding additional committee rules at this time?” asked Porter, whose use of such props was not an issue on the House Oversight Committee. In a show of her emerging political star power, Porter eventually got to display the bingo poster — on “Late Night with Seth Meyers.”

If you’re familiar with the no-nonsense Chairwoman Waters, you can imagine how the Seth Meyers incident went over with her. But it wasn’t showing up her boss that cost Porter her spot on Financial Services. It also wasn’t punishment for taking on banking executives, as some progressives have suggested.

To understand what happened it’s necessary to know how committee assignments are doled out by the Democratic House leadership. There are four highly coveted “exclusive” committees (Appropriations, Energy & Commerce, Financial Services, Ways & Means). Serving on any of them involves an above-average time commitment which is offset somewhat by the ease with which members can raise money once they’re in a role that oversees government taxing, spending or economic regulation. For these reasons, if a Democrat serving on an exclusive committee wants any additional committee assignments, they must obtain a waiver.

Handled by the House Steering Committee, the waivers are frequently granted. Without one, Porter could not have served on the Oversight Committee during her first term. Yet, as Porter should have known, the waivers are not automatic.

The most important fact in this debate is that Porter did not tell the Steering Committee that Financial Services was her first choice committee. She didn’t even tell them it was her second choice committee.

When it came time to request committee assignments in the new year, Porter raised eyebrows once again. She requested to remain on Oversight and join the Natural Resources committee as her top two choices. Then she asked for a waiver to continue on Financial Services.

That was a bass-ackwards way of filling out her preferences. If she had made Financial Services her first choice she would still be sitting on Financial Services. It’s doubtful that she would have been denied a waiver to sit on Oversight again and she may well have been granted another for the Natural Resources slot she coveted. But she wanted to make a point that service on Financial Services shouldn’t be exclusive.

For some Democrats, the biggest snub came late last year when Porter lobbied to take Financial Services off the list of exclusive committees. That top-tier designation comes with a price: members may not serve on any other committee unless they receive a waiver.

Such waivers are not rare. But if Financial Services were no longer exclusive, it would be easier for new members like Porter to remain on the committee while also branching into other areas without the need for special permission.

The freshman lawmaker did not convince the House leadership to change the exclusivity system. So, instead of requesting a waiver to sit on committees other than Financial Services, she requested a waiver in order to serve on Financial Services.

It was a ridiculous decision and the House leadership treated it that way. They gave her two top choices but denied the waiver request. They also approved a gavel for Porter on the Natural Resources Oversight & Investigations subcommittee where she can put her superb interrogating skills to good use.

Porter wasn’t wronged by the House leadership. They gave her what she said she wanted for her top two committee assignments. It’s true that she might have been granted the Financial Services waiver if she hadn’t run afoul of Waters and made waves about the assignment rules, but she would not have been kicked off the committee if she’d made it her first choice. There are a lot more congresspeople seeking to serve on Financial Services than there are slots, so Porter was betting that her star-turn on the committee would intimidate the Steering Committee into bending to her will.

Porter likes to buck the system which is admirable and has earned her some hard core fans, but she has no one to blame but herself for how things turned out in this case.

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