Politics & Government

Kay Granger aims to be first woman to chair powerful spending committee

U.S. Rep Kay Granger speaks during last year’s Tarrant County Republican Lincoln Day Dinner at the Omni Hotel in Fort Worth.
U.S. Rep Kay Granger speaks during last year’s Tarrant County Republican Lincoln Day Dinner at the Omni Hotel in Fort Worth. Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Rep. Kay Granger will vie to become the first woman ever to chair the powerful House Appropriations Committee next year, as she bids to head the panel that makes key decisions on how trillions of federal dollars are spent.

Granger, a Fort Worth, Texas, Republican, would instantly become a major power-broker in a Republican caucus that currently has had only three women chairs in this Congress.

Granger, the only Republican woman Texas has ever elected to the House, has fought fierce leadership battles in the past, including edging out the outgoing full committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., for her current subcommittee role.

This time, Granger could face stiff competition from Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., and Energy and Water Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who is considered close to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., also announced plans to seek the chairmanship.

The current chairman, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., said Monday he would retire at the end of his term. Granger currently chairs the committee’s defense subcommittee, and is the fourth most senior member on the full committee.

Fellow House Republicans will choose the new chair once the November elections are over. The party has sought to spotlight women in powerful positions, but found it difficult. Democrats have 62 women House members. Republicans have 22.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was Speaker of the House from 2007 to 2011. No GOP woman has gone that far. The highest-ranking woman in Republican leadership today is Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., the GOP conference chair.

“Since Chairman Frelinghuysen announced his retirement, people have been encouraging me to seek the Appropriations Committee gavel,” Granger said in a statement Monday.

Granger’s Fort Worth-based Congressional district includes Lockheed Martin’s F-35 assembly plant. She’s been a staunch advocate for the F-35 program, which brought thousands of jobs to her district. Her subcommittee controls about half of the current appropriations committee’s total spending.

Granger is respected among her colleagues and helps raise money for them — a key factor in chairmanship battles. She hosted a fundraiser for a fellow appropriator, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., in North Texas last summer.

Eighteen women have served as committee chairs in the history of the U.S. House. Many of them headed committees involving education, administration or ethics. Two female members of Congress chaired a select committee on the House Beauty Shop from 1967 to 1979.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., chairs the Education and the Workforce Committee, and Susan Brooks, R-Ind., chairs the Ethics Committee. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., led the Budget Committee before stepping down recently to run for governor.

Granger, a defense hawk, long been a trailblazer among women in national security.

As chairwoman of the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, she led a coalition of female House members to Iraq to coach women there on running for office in the new Iraqi government.

“In one of the meetings, the building we were supposed to meet in was blown up before we could meet there, and it became so dangerous with so many threats that we were going to have to call it off,” Granger said of that project at a Women, Peace and Security Symposium at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in December.

Since she was first elected in 1996, Granger has aimed to serve on the defense appropriations subcommittee. She won the top job last year, after more than two decades in Washington.

Some of her fellow Texas GOP leaders, who rose to leadership more quickly, took a different route. The GOP has six-year term limits on chairmanships in the House, and several of Texas’s current chairs will have to step down at the end of the current term.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who chairs the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, will retire at the end of the year, when his chairmanship ends. So will Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee.

Granger, who turned 75 this month, is seeking re-election to a 12th term this year. She faces little threat from the left or the right.

Even if Republicans lose control of the chamber, being the party’s top representative on the appropriations committee would still be a coup for Granger.

Before running for Congress as a Republican, Granger was a nonpartisan mayor of Fort Worth from 1991 to 1995. She served as vice chair of the House Republican Conference from 2007 to 2009.

Emma Dumain contributed to this report.

Andrea Drusch: 202-383-6056, @AndreaDrusch