Nancy Pelosi announced some ranking memberships for the 112th Congress last night, and most of them were holdovers. But the Oversight Committee was a wildcard. Would the ranking membership go to Carolyn Maloney, next in line for the position and backed by outgoing ranking member Ed Towns? Or would Elijah Cummings, currently third in line, get the nod? Turns out that the Policy and Steering Committee picked Cummings over Maloney, and so did the caucus.

Rep. Elijah Cummings has been elected the top Democrat on the House’s principle investigative panel.

The Baltimore Democrat can now look forward to two years of combat with incoming chairman Darrell Issa, the California Republican who has pledged wide-ranging investigations of the Obama administration when the GOP takes control of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in January.

In seeking to become ranking member, or leader of the committee minority, Cummings had said he would not allow the oversight committee “to tie the hands of our President and federal workforce, preventing them from fulfilling their duties to protect and serve the American people.”

Cummings has the potential to be a worthy adversary to Darrell Issa. But the way in which the leadership went about this was pretty ham-fisted. First, they clearly pushed out Ed Towns, as he acknowledged in a letter to Pelosi. He said that “I decided to withdraw my candidacy following a conversation with you when you made it clear that I did not have your support.”

Then, the leadership upends the seniority system to get Cummings into the position, seemingly balancing the desires of the Congressional Black Caucus, who wanted Towns replaced with another member. This leapfrogs Carolyn Maloney, who had the support of many women’s groups and the entire New York delegation.

This is not to say I don’t think Cummings will do a good job. I was pleased to see him state the main issues of the Oversight Committee, including how they must “continue to seek the causes and solutions of our economic downturn” and “attempt to stem the tide of fraudulent foreclosures in America.” And the seniority system shouldn’t necessarily be the way that the caucus picks its leaders on the various committees. But Maloney definitely got a raw deal here. Ultimately, the full caucus made the call, but the view of the leadership was unmistakable.

Maloney will, I’m assuming, retain the ranking membership on the Joint Economic Commitee.