GOP struggles to find women to lead House committees

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Rep. Virginia Foxx (N.C.) is the only Republican woman in the House officially in the running to chair a committee, underlining how the GOP has made little progress in diversifying its slate of committee leaders. 

The only woman currently atop a House panel, Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), is retiring, meaning House GOP leaders are under pressure to elevate at least one other female lawmaker to ensure their committee chair roster isn’t entirely white and male.

{mosads}Little time remains for anyone else to make a play for a committee gavel. The House GOP Steering Committee is expected to pick new chairs for 2017 next month following lawmakers’ return from the campaign trail.

Foxx appears to have a clear shot at securing the gavel of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. Rep. Joe Wilson (S.C.), the only Republican ahead of her in seniority apart from retiring Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.), already endorsed her in January.

Also in Foxx’s favor is that she already serves as a member of House GOP leadership in her role as conference secretary.

Still, even if Foxx wins as expected, House Republicans would likely face the status quo of only one woman leading a committee when the new Congress starts in January.

The main obstacle in promoting more women to leadership roles is that there are simply fewer to choose from, particularly in the House GOP conference. 

Of the 88 women — including delegates — serving in the House, only 23 are Republicans. Just eight of the GOP women were first elected before 2010. 

In addition, only two of 43 African-Americans and six of 29 Hispanic lawmakers in the House are members of the GOP conference. 

Many of those Republicans are in competitive races this year, potentially making it more difficult to diversify their ranks.

That makes it all that much harder to add more women and minorities to the ranks of House GOP committee chairs, especially when seniority plays a key factor in deciding who should get gavels.

By comparison, seven committee chairs during the first term of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) tenure as Speaker from 2007 to 2009 were women or people of color.

Nearly a decade later, 12 of the 21 committees’ ranking Democrats are women or minorities. 

Apart from Foxx, other senior GOP women aren’t currently in the running for the five openings for chairs of the House Energy and Commerce, Education and the Workforce, Appropriations, Veterans’ Affairs, and Administration committees.

Incumbent House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) decided against seeking a waiver from the GOP’s three-term limit. Instead, he’s making a play for the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing defense programs, a spokeswoman confirmed.

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), the current defense subcommittee chairman, is the next in seniority on the full Appropriations panel and is widely considered to be the front-runner to succeed Rogers.

But the next lawmaker ranking in seniority, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), is also considering a bid for the full Appropriations gavel after getting encouragement from the conservative wing of the GOP conference and outside groups.

“Robert is very respectful of Mr. Frelinghuysen’s seniority, and discussions between those two are on-going,” said Aderholt spokesman Brian Rell.

Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), the most senior woman on the Appropriations Committee, had been floated as a potential Rogers replacement. Yet she has focused her efforts in recent months on the same defense gavel that Rogers is eyeing. 

Granger currently chairs the Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the State Department and foreign aid. She’s also the vice chairman of the defense subcommittee.

The opening for the House Energy and Commerce Committee gavel is also shaping up to be a contest between multiple men.

Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who leads House Republicans’ campaign arm, and John Shimkus (R-Ill.) are considered the front-runners for the chairmanship. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), a former Energy and Commerce Committee chairman in the mid-2000s, is also “very interested,” a spokesman said.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) is sometimes mentioned as a possible candidate for the Energy and Commerce gavel, given that she currently serves as the committee’s vice chair. Yet her plans remain somewhat of a mystery.

Her office didn’t respond to an inquiry from The Hill on Monday about her interest in the Energy and Commerce gavel. 

Since last year, Blackburn has served as chair of the select panel investigating abortion practices. 

In recent months, Blackburn has been a frequent surrogate for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. She had been a rumored potential vice presidential pick before Trump chose Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

Another opening atop the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee appears unlikely to be filled by a woman. Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) is vice chairman of the panel and could succeed retiring chairman and fellow Floridian Jeff Miller. Even if Bilirakis were to pass on the gavel, the next five members in seniority on the committee are all men.

Unlike most other committees, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will handpick the person to succeed Miller as chair of the House Administration Committee. Yet the only other woman on the panel, freshman Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), ranks low in seniority, making it more likely a higher-ranking male member will be appointed.

Tags Donald Trump Joe Wilson Kay Granger Marsha Blackburn Mike Pence Paul Ryan Robert Aderholt Rodney Frelinghuysen Virginia Foxx
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