By Jonathan E. Kaplan - 12/07/05 12:00 AM EST
The GOP Steering Committee faces a dilemma in filling a vacancy on the Appropriations Committee created by the resignation of Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.). It must decide whether to side with Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), who is backing a fellow Californian, or with House leaders, who passed over a loyal rank-and-file member when a seat was available last year.
Lewis favors Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) for the seat. But last year, House leaders passed over Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), an assistant whip and active campaigner.
Cunningham announced his resignation after pleading guilty last week to bribery charges in an influence-peddling case.
Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has not set a date to meet. The Speaker and acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) have five votes and three votes on the Steering Committee, respectively, giving them a slight edge in influencing the outcome. GOP sources said Wilson spoke to Blunt’s top aides this week, adding to the chatter about who will win.
Reps. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) and Henry Brown (R-S.C.) also have expressed interest in the seat; Brown sent a letter to his colleagues asking for their support. But Tiberi and Brown have angled for open slots at the Ways and Means Committee and the Appropriations Committee, a strategy that irks lawmakers because both are considered highly desirable, A-list committees.
“If you’re patient and stick with a game plan, members respect that more,” a senior GOP aide remarked.
A former GOP aide-turned-lobbyist said there would be plenty of opportunities to fill open Appropriations seats after next year’s elections because of multiple GOP retirements.
“This is an opportunity for someone to get the seat and someone to make himself the front-runner for the next one if they lose with grace,” the lobbyist said.
House leaders have been impressed with Tiberi’s fundraising efforts aimed at defeating a Democratic-backed redistricting ballot initiative in Ohio last month, according to one GOP lawmaker.
But if geography is the deciding factor in the race, a Republican appropriator predicted, Calvert would win.
“He’s been around much longer and I’m betting on the fact that Lewis is from California,” he said, adding that Steering Committee members would listen to Hastert, who usually plays a leading role in influencing committee assignments.
Next year there will be several open Appropriations seats, assuming Republicans maintain control of the House after the 2006 midterm elections. At the beginning of the 110th Congress, the Steering Committee will have to select replacements for Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), a gubernatorial candidate, and Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), who announced his retirement last month.
The committee could face even more open seats because several appropriators face legal problems that could make their reelection campaigns more difficult, while others’ races have already become competitive.
For example, Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va.) has received several donations from the same defense contractors allegedly ensnared in the Cunningham bribery case. Indicted GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff hired Kevin Ring, a former staffer to Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), and employed Doolittle’s wife, Julie, for public relations work. Rep. Don Sherwood (R-Pa.) recently settled a lawsuit with a woman who accused him of sexual assault, and Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.) is facing a tough election against former NFL quarterback Heath Schuler.
Several lobbyists and aides suggested that current committee members Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) and Henry Bonilla (R-Texas) could replace Kolbe as chairman of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and State, which doles out foreign aid.
But so far, Kingston and Bonilla have declined to talk publicly about such ambition. In an interview, Kingston said the committee and his chairman were solely focused on the end-of-the-year endgame.
“Lewis has got a pretty tough scramble,” said Kingston, who lost his Legislative Branch Subcommittee chairmanship when Lewis eliminated the panel earlier this year. “He’s gone from 13 to 10 subcommittees. He’s done everything he can to avoid an omnibus, but we still might have a minibus or a little carpool.”
“It’s not a good time for me to be out there gunning for one thing or another,” he said. “We should be making sure we stay in the majority.”
But several GOP sources said that some appropriators are upset with Kingston, the vice chairman of the GOP conference, who faulted them for failing to do a good job whipping the labor-health and human services spending bill, which went down in a stunning defeat last month.
“We were watching the puppy, and the cat jumped up on the counter and ate the fish,” Kingston said. “There were 22 different reasons why 22 [GOP] members voted no. We could not just say, ‘Let’s pull out language here and fix it.’”
Other sources doubted Kingston’s earlier conclusion that appropriations were to blame for the bill’s failure and argued that leaders have the responsibility to whip spending bills, which they often did in the years immediately after winning control of the House. But over time after House leaders established a more routine procedure on spending bills, GOP sources said, more Republicans began to fall in line on contentious measures such as the Labor-HHS appropriations bill and there was less need to whip the votes.
Dear Mr. Speaker,
It is with a heavy heart that I submit to you my resignation as a Member of the United States House of Representatives, effective close of business on Thursday December 1, 2005. I am forwarding you a copy of my letter of resignation to Governor Schwarzenegger.
I am resigning from the House of Representatives because I discredited my high office and the party that I love. Not only have I compromised the trust of my constituents, I have misled my family, friends, colleagues, staff and even myself. Mr. Speaker, I leave the utmost respect for you and our colleagues and I am deeply sorry that I have shamed our great institution in this way.
Please accept my resignation as one of the many steps I now take to atone for my crimes.
Randy “Duke” Cunningham