Waiver may be Barton's only shot at chairing E&C, Walden suggests

Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.), the chairman of the GOP transition team, seems to see a waiver to GOP rules as the only path for Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) to become chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Walden said on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" on Friday that he does not expect Republicans to alter their rules in a way that would allow a member to serve more than six years as chairman and ranking member of a committee.

Nor does he see the rules as ambiguous in a way that would allow a member to serve more than six years if part of his or her tenure were in the minority.

"The rules of the conference, everyone knew what they were when we got to this point — six years," Walden said. "I would be surprised if the conference votes to change that."

That leaves only one path for Barton to become chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee: obtaining a waiver from the party leadership.

The Energy and Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over telecommunications policy. Barton has made his telecom proposals one defining plank in his bid for the chairmanship.

A co-chairman of the Congressional Privacy Caucus, Barton has pledged to push legislation to crack down on data collection by the online advertising industry, and has said he wants top officials from Facebook and Google, including chief executives, to testify before the committee.

Barton, the panel's ranking member, has served six years on top of the committee, including his tenure in the minority. He interprets party rules, as written, in a way that would allow him to become chairman of the committee without a rules change.

But if Republicans reject that argument, Barton will need either an alteration to the rules or a waiver from them if he is to chair the committee.

Walden did not seem to think the rules are ambiguous, nor did he think a rule change is likely.

"We've got a six year term-limit on committee chairs, and it would take a change in the conference rules to alter that," Walden said.

Walden did not shut the door, however, on the possibility that the party could hand out a waiver. He said he understands the argument that serving as ranking member and serving as chairman are not equal roles.

"I also have this notion that your time in the minority is not nearly as powerful as your time in the majority," Walden said. "Going forward, we need to have that discussion. If you're in the minority, does being ranking member have the same value as being the chairman of a committee? I think that's a valid discussion we should have going forward."