Texas GOP lawmakers pushing for power in new Congress

Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, 2014
Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, 2014 McClatchy

Texas boasts the largest Republican delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives and several members are making their presence felt by seeking to lead powerful committees that deal with three key issues: defense, agriculture and tax policy.

Among the state’s incoming 25-member delegation, Rep. Mac Thornberry of Amarillo is in line to chair the Armed Services Committee, Rep. K. Michael Conaway of Midland is seeking to take over Agriculture Committee and Rep. Kevin Brady of The Woodlands is in a hard-fought battle to lead the Ways and Means Committee.

Texans now hold four major committee chairmanships and all will have to be approved again by the House Republican Steering Committee, a panel that is effectively controlled by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. The entire conference of Republicans who will serve starting in January will then vote on the committee’s recommendations.

Boehner announced Friday that Republican Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas will again serve as chairman of the House Rules Committee, an important panel that determines what legislation proceeds to the floor. The panel is closely controlled by the speaker and is one of the few committees where Boehner appoints the chairman directly.

“No one has worked harder to make the people’s House more open and accountable than Pete Sessions,” said Boehner in a statement. “As Rules chairman, he has seen to it that members of both parties have a genuine opportunity to contribute to the legislative process.”

Sessions said, “My objective as Rules chairman remains clear _ to enact legislation that will get Americans back to work and to do it in accordance with the highest standards of fairness, openness, and accountability.”

The path for the other Texans looking to win chairmanships is not as clear cut.

Thornberry, who is next in seniority to lead Armed Services, with the retirement of Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., may face a challenge from Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-Va.

Conaway is the front-runner for the Agriculture panel even though he is not next in seniority. He currently chairs the House Ethics Committee, a position appointed by the speaker.

Brady may have the toughest road ahead since the Ways and Means chairman was all but promised by Republican leaders to Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the party’s 2012 vice presidential standard-bearer who is currently chairman of the House Budget Committee.

That’s not dissuading Brady.

“I’m proven. I’m qualified. I’m 100 percent committed to this committee,” Brady told McClatchy.

Seniority-wise, he’s ahead of Ryan and has mounted a campaign to build support for his candidacy in the face of the conference’s enthusiasm for Ryan after his strong performance in the presidential race.

Looking at his own prospects, a confidant Brady said, “It’s going well.”

As for the increasing number of potential chairmanships for the Texas delegation, he said, “Our influence continues to grow.”

Of the current chairmen from Texas, only one may have a challenger, U.S. Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Dallas. Media outlets have published rumblings that Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., term-limited as Agriculture Committee chairman, will make a play for financial services.

In a statement to McClatchy, Hensarling spokeswoman Sarah Rozier said, the congressman “has secured the support and votes on the Steering Committee to continue serving as the Financial Services Committee chairman in the 114th Congress.”

The other current Texas chairmen are expected to be unopposed: Michael McCaul of Austin, chairman of Homeland Security Committee, and Lamar Smith of San Antonio, chairman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Democrats are also expected to vote next week for their leaders and top committee assignments. Texas is a player in only one race, where U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio is among five candidates angling to lead the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The position will be hand-picked by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Castro is a rising star in Democratic politics and met with Pelosi, as did the other candidates, to make his case as a fundraiser, recruiter and organizer.