Loophole might permit Berman to wear two hats

Rep. could stay as copyright chair

Entertainment industry ally Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., might keep his copyright subcommittee chairmanship and for a time accede to the Foreign Affairs Committee chair left vacant by the death of by fellow California Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos (HR 2/12).

Under a clause in Democratic party rules, Berman can hold both chairmanships until the end of this Congress. The rule was written to prevent the death of a member from impeding the work of the institution. It permits staff to remain in place during the transition.

After the election, a new Congress begins and Berman — provided he retains his seat and the Democrats keep control — must drop one seat. He has indicated that he wants the Foreign Affairs Committee chair.

The House Democratic Caucus steering committee must forward a recommendation to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., before Berman can keep the seat — moves viewed as formalities. Berman's office failed to respond to inquiries.

Wearing two hats will also ease entertainment industry nervousness that Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va. — or someone more sympathetic to tech-industry concerns rather than the concerns of the copyright industry — will take the position.

The entertainment industry does lots of business with the copyright subcommittee. In the House, subcommittee members and their staff do 90% of the work, with only the most contentious policies getting a vote.