Could Joe Barton, who defended BP, really lead energy panel?

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 19, 2010 

WASHINGTON — Is Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, improving his chances at landing the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee?

Barton, who was facing long odds at becoming chairman again because of GOP term limits, is now looking at being able to make his case to the House GOP Steering Committee without going through a separate process of getting a waiver from House GOP rules.

According to several House Republican staffers, all of the candidates to chair the panel _ Reps. Fred Upton of Michigan, John Shimkus of Illinois and Cliff Stearns of Florida _ will be able to present their argument to be chairman when the steering panel meets the week after Thanksgiving.

Barton was chairman for one term when the GOP had the majority, from 2004 to 2006, and ranking member for two terms from 2006 to 2010 when the Republicans were in the minority. The GOP rules limit service as the top Republican to three terms, or six years, unless the steering committee grants a waiver.

The steering committee, made up of about 27 members from leadership, committee chairs, regional and freshman representatives, is effectively controlled by incoming House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, who has five votes.

Asked about Barton on Thursday at a leadership press conference, Boehner said, “Mr. Barton is free to come to the steering committee and ask for a waiver just like any other member in that circumstance.”

Boehner reportedly said separately that the decision on a waiver and the chairmanship was “not a two-step process.”

A senior GOP aide — speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to make a statement — said that if all the energy and commerce candidates make their case, a vote for Barton would implicitly include a waiver — enabling members to avoid a drawn out or difficult vote on the Republican rules, which Barton has attacked as “ambiguous.”

Barton got a boost on that point from Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, newly re-elected as National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, who told reporters Thursday, according to the Daily Caller, that he did not think the rule was clear.

“I think we all understand that the time one might spend in the minority is different than being the chairman,” said Sessions.

“I think there are two different ways to look at it and I think Mr. Barton has successfully served one term as chairman and two terms as ranking member and I do not equate them as being equivalent.”

“Reports of his demise have been greatly exaggerated,” said one GOP aide supportive of Barton.

However, another senior staffer not affiliated with his competitors said, “They’re not going to pick him. He’s a loose cannon.”

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