House retirement sets off scramble for coveted chairmanship

House retirement sets off scramble for coveted chairmanship
© Greg Nash

The race to lead the House Appropriations Committee is already heating up following Chairman Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Top House GOP appropriations staffer moves to lobbying shop Individuals with significant disabilities need hope and action MORE’s (R-N.J.) retirement announcement on Monday. 

Reps. Robert AderholtRobert Brown AderholtLobbying World House advances B agriculture bill Dems advance bill defying Trump State Department cuts MORE (R-Ala.) and Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerICE emerges as stumbling block in government funding talks Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry MORE (R-Texas), two of the most senior members on the spending panel, both threw their hats into the ring for the gavel after Frelinghuysen said he would not seek reelection. Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeTrump's border wall hangs over spending talks House, Senate reach deal on fiscal 2020 spending figures New hemp trade group presses lawmakers on immigration reform, regs MORE (R-Okla.), another long-time appropriator, followed suit shortly after.

“Today, I am announcing that I’m running to be chairwoman of the @HouseAppropsGOP,” Granger wrote on Twitter. “This is a very challenging time for our country, and Chairman Frelinghuysen will leave tough shoes to fill. I will work hard to earn the support of my colleagues, and I look forward to a spirited race.” 

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Granger currently chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense and previously served as vice chair of the House Republican Conference from 2007 to 2009. Putting Granger in charge of the full committee would increase the GOP's female representation atop House committees, where only two Republican women now serve as chairs. 

Aderholt, meanwhile, chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture and is the most senior appropriator on the panel behind Frelinghuysen and Rep. Hal RogersHarold (Hal) Dallas RogersBottom line Appropriators face crucial weekend to reach deal Trump says he'll decide on foreign aid cuts within a week MORE (R-Texas), a former chairman.

“It is too soon to talk about changes and reforms to the appropriations process, but there is no doubt that major changes need to be made,” Aderholt said in a statement. “If allowed by my colleagues to serve as the next chairman of the Appropriations Committee, I look forward to addressing these challenges.”

Cole, chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on labor and health and human services, also intends to run for the chairmanship, his spokeswoman said Monday. 

The timing of Frelinghuysen’s departure is unusual in that he still has four more years left in his term as Appropriations chairman — and members are usually hesitant to relinquish the position. But Frelinghuysen was facing a tough reelection race this fall, with his New Jersey district seen as a prime pickup opportunity for Democrats.

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The Appropriations chairmanship is not as powerful as it once was, in part due to the GOP’s ban on earmarks, but it still gives a lawmaker the ability to direct billions of dollars in government spending. 

While Granger and Aderholt, who both came to Congress in 1997, are early front-runners for the job, it’s possible other candidates will emerge as well.

Another southern Republican, Rep. Tom GravesJohn (Tom) Thomas GravesThe Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached Republican Tom Graves announces retirement from House Lawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms MORE (Ga.), has been receiving praise from conservatives in recent months and could make a play for the gavel.

Last year, Graves tried to rally his GOP colleagues to pass a massive fiscal 2018 spending package before the long August congressional recess so Republicans wouldn't get jammed with an unpopular bill right before government funding expired.

Graves "has won over a lot of conservatives in the past year. He's just building a lot of goodwill," said one GOP aide who is closely tracking the race to replace Frelinghuysen. "And he's the right guy to carry the anti-Senate/[Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell (R-Ky.) message." 

“Today is the chairman’s day, and I’ll make a decision on where I can best serve later on,” Graves said in a statement.

Rep. Mario Diaz-BalartMario Rafael Diaz-BalartOn The Money: Lawmakers strike spending deal | US, China reach limited trade deal ahead of tariff deadline | Lighthizer fails to quell GOP angst over new NAFTA House passes bill that would give legal status to thousands of undocumented farmworkers House passes stopgap as spending talks stall MORE (R-Fla.), chairman of the Appropriations transportation subcommittee, will not vie for the full gavel, according to a source close to him. 

But another Appropriations subcommittee chairman, Rep. Mike SimpsonMIchael (Mike) Keith SimpsonOn The Money: Lawmakers strike spending deal | US, China reach limited trade deal ahead of tariff deadline | Lighthizer fails to quell GOP angst over new NAFTA House passes bill that would give legal status to thousands of undocumented farmworkers 'Minor league cities' need new federal partnership MORE (R-Idaho), did not rule out a bid on Monday.

“I have been asked many times if I would be interested in a larger role on the committee someday. My response has always been and remains that it is something I will seriously consider,” Simpson, chairman of the energy and water development subcommittee, said in a statement. “For now, we should be grateful for the years of service that Rodney and his family have given his district and our country. He will be missed very much.”

The House Steering Committee, which is stacked with allies of Republican leadership, will meet after the November elections to determine committee slots.

— Scott Wong contributed