Race heats up for top GOP post on powerful Energy and Commerce Committee

Greg Nash

The race to succeed the top Republican on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee is heating up as House GOP lawmakers begin currying support for their candidacies.

Reps. Michael Burgess (Texas), a doctor and the most senior Republican on the panel, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) are viewed as the front-runners to fill the seat held by retiring Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), according to multiple GOP lawmakers.

Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) is also pursuing the top post, but he is seen as the dark horse in the race, the sources said.

All three lawmakers have met multiple times with members of the Republican Steering Committee — which is tasked with determining committee posts — to tout their credentials for a coveted position on a panel that oversees a broad number of policy areas ranging from health care to energy. Another factor in the decision-making process will be their fundraising efforts, though all have shown an ability to bring in large amounts of cash for the party.

Republicans view the health care debate as a top priority and Burgess is viewed by many as the right man at the right time with his background as a doctor as well as his strong grasp of the policy issues that will come before the panel.

“I would say right now, it’s neck-and-neck between Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dr. Burgess,” a member of the Steering Committee told The Hill.

“Dr. Burgess obviously understands energy coming from an energy state. And he has deep knowledge of health care, which is really the No. 1 issue for Republicans in the House — that expertise [makes him the] right person at the right time,” the member added.

Other lawmakers noted that the large number of Texans on the Steering Committee could give him a leg up on the competition, but they cautioned that the committee’s membership might look different in the next Congress.

When asked about his interest in the role, Burgess cited his medical bona fides and the number of years spent on the committee, where he has served as the top Republican on several subcommittees. Burgess has been on the committee since 2005.

“There’s no better time to have someone at the head of the committee who understands health care policy and understands the energy policy, and I’ve been on the committee so long,” said Burgess, who is currently the ranking member on the health subcommittee.

“I do not like to brag about myself, but I do not know if there’s anyone out there that has the depth or breadth of the policy experience that I have had,” he added.

Others pointed to McMorris Rodgers as the contender who may have a slight edge because of her leadership credentials as a former chair of the House Republican Conference and as one of the few GOP women in the House.

“Cathy’s already run the conference. She knows all these guys … And a female lead goes a long way, if we are being truthful with each other, so I’d say that she’s probably in a better position,” said one Steering Committee source.

While seniority is taken into consideration in Steering Committee deliberations, sources noted that the House GOP has had members jump ahead in the past.

Another Steering Committee member noted that McMorris Rodgers, the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce, would excel as the messaging lead on health care not only because of her leadership experience, but also because the matter is personal to her: She has a child with preexisting conditions.

McMorris Rodgers, in an interview with The Hill, said she has a proven record on delivering on both messaging and policy from her time in leadership and as a subcommittee chair on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

“We need strong leadership in this position and I’m the best person for the job,” said McMorris Rodgers, who has been on committee for a decade. “I have the policy knowledge and I have consistently helped our team win and that’s what sets me apart in this race. I believe that my time in leadership is a big advantage and understanding what it takes to get big things across the finish line.”

Other members said they were impressed by Latta, the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, though they noted he likely had the steepest climb ahead of him.

“He’s kind of under-the-radar sort of guy, but he’s got great credentials as a legislator. He knows how to work with the other side of the aisle to get something done so I think that’s a strength of his,” said another Steering Committee member.

In an interview with The Hill, Latta highlighted that he is within the top 2 percent of House lawmakers who get bills signed into law and that he has had legislation signed into law that originated in every one of the Energy and Commerce subcommittees except oversight, which he noted does not produce legislation.

The Ohio Republican, who has been on the committee since 2010, added that he has sat on all six of the panel’s subcommittees and has a strong understanding on the different policy areas, saying one needs “to know how to work it” to get things done.

“It’s the most important committee in Congress. We have the greatest jurisdiction. We want to make sure that we get some work done,” he said, while highlighting his bipartisan record.

Some Steering Committee members cautioned that it would be too early to say who is the first pick.

“I’d say this isn’t a foregone conclusion,” one lawmaker said.

A key factor that often influences the selection of members to lead top committees is strong fundraising prowess, which all three candidates have so far demonstrated.

Burgess, who is ranked as the 19th highest member in terms of giving contributions to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), has exceeded his NRCC dues by donating $831,050. He has also given $170,000 in direct contributions to candidates, according to a source familiar with Burgess’s fundraising numbers.

McMorris Rodgers, who is ranked as NRCC’s 8th highest member in terms of giving contributions, has raised more than $1.2 million for the NRCC from donors, according to a spokesperson from her political operation. The source said that amount is comparable to those of other top Republicans leading key House committees. And in recent weeks, McMorris Rodgers has also sent $265,000 from her leadership PAC to candidates and members to help in the final stretch of the election, the spokesperson said.

According to a source close to Latta, the Ohio Republican has also raised funds beyond his NRCC dues, directly donating more than $600,000 to the GOP campaign arm. He has also contributed funds to more than 100 House members and Republican candidates.

Updated at 10:28 a.m.

Tags Cathy McMorris Rodgers Energy Fundraising Greg Walden Health care house committee House Energy and Commerce Committee Michael Burgess Ranking member
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