It's not often that what happens in the Garden State matters much in Texas. Except on Monday, when the retirement of U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey created a major opportunity for a member of the Texas delegation.
Frelinghuysen is the chairman of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, the arm of Congress that influences spending policy. U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth is widely considered a serious contender for the the chairmanship, multiple GOP House sources tell The Texas Tribune.
There are few positions more coveted than this role, and it would come at a time when Texas will begin losing chairmanships on other committees due to term limits.
Seniority is a top consideration for any committee leadership. Granger is the fourth most senior Republican on the committee, after Frelinghuysen, U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky and Robert Aderholt of Alabama.
Rogers previously served as chairman, but Granger's main competition appears to be Aderholt. Capitol Hill sources tell the Tribune he will pose a formidable obstacle to Granger. Besides seniority, he is a proven whip-counter, a highly prized skill among House GOP leadership. Aderholt announced on Twitter early Monday afternoon that he would run for the slot.
But Granger has her own strengths. She is an adept fundraiser and supports the campaigns of colleagues. The GOP is also bleeding female members in the House, thanks to retirements and women opting to run statewide for U.S. Senate and governor around the country.
An interest by GOP leaders to position females in more prominent positions could boost Granger's chances.
Granger is widely considered a powerful force within the Congress – albeit a quiet figure. First elected in 1996, she is the only female Republican serving in Congress from Texas and the last freshman woman elected to a full term in Congress from the state.
Most chairmanships, including the House Appropriations Committee, are essentially decided after the November elections among several dozen Republicans who serve on the House Steering Committee. Two Texans - U.S. Reps. Lamar Smith of San Antonio and John Carter of Round Rock – currently serve on the committee. Smith announced his retirement in November but another Texan will likely replace him.
The party's leader in the House holds outsized influence within the committee and in the selection process. Persistent rumors that U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan might retire could further complicate the dynamics of the selection process.
While the current Texas delegation holds seven committee chairmanships, the gavels will begin phasing out next term due to term limits. A Granger chairmanship would do much to staunch the diminishment of delegation power in the GOP conference.
It would also mean Houston and southeast Texas would have a high-ranking in-state advocate as the region continues to seek federal assistance while recovering from Hurricane Harvey.
But there could be one brutal irony to the Frelinghuysen retirement for Granger or whomever assumes the committee leadership.
The 12-term congressman had two terms remaining in his chairmanship. Prior to this year, his suburban New York City district was not considered competitive. But his chances for re-election began to grow dimmer with each passing week of the Trump era and his retirement is widely viewed as another indicator that the party is in treacherous territory in the coming midterms.
Should a once-safe seat like Frelinghuysen's flip to the Democrats, it is hard to see how the GOP can maintain control of the U.S. House, which would mean that Granger could end up finding herself in the top minority position on the committee – ranking member – rather than chairwoman.
The current top Democrat on the committee is a close friend of Granger's, U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey of New York. The pair share one of the most notable bipartisan friendships at the Capitol.
Tribune efforts to reach Granger on Monday were unsuccessful but she released a statement regarding Frelinghuysen, who she called "a dear friend and colleague, and a tireless advocate for rebuilding our nation’s military."
“I have valued working alongside him on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, where he preceded me as chairman" Granger said. "I wish Rodney and his family all the best in his retirement. He is leaving a legacy of honesty and commitment to the nation.”