House Democrats could soon be at war.

The internal drama over who will take the top Democratic slot on the Energy and Commerce Committee next year has spilled into public view, with some lawmakers unhappy with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for taking sides so early — or at all.

Pelosi stunned colleagues on Thursday with a letter outlining support for her fellow Californian and close friend Anna G. Eshoo against Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, and now some Democrats find themselves in a difficult position. House Democrats put significant stock in years of service when doling out plum committee assignments, and the simple choice of picking the Energy and Commerce Committee’s current No. 3 — Pallone — now has been complicated by Pelosi’s endorsement of Eshoo, who is No. 5 in seniority.

Many lawmakers and aides told CQ Roll Call they don’t see stark enough differences between the members to justify waiving the seniority precedent and allowing Eshoo to leapfrog over Pallone. Both lawmakers, they have argued, are equally able to do the job, and there is little reason for Pelosi to choose sides so publicly in a move surely aimed at influencing undecideds.

One House Democrat said Pallone has paid his dues.

As leadership’s point person for coordinating the party’s messaging on the House floor, Pallone has been “a loyal lieutenant,” said the lawmaker, who asked to remain anonymous and still hasn’t decided whom to back. “It’s a thankless task, it’s drudgery, and he does it every day. And Pelosi threw him out like yesterday’s trash.”

Eshoo boosters see it differently.

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