The Republicans’ midterm sweep in the House of Representatives doesn’t just mean that John Boehner will become Speaker — it means a drastic shift of leadership and legislative priorities throughout the whole chamber.
This week, House Republicans officially rolled out the list of committee chairs in the new Congress. And as can be expected, some of them are really interesting personalities. It is these individuals who will be holding hearings on legislation and oversight of the executive branch — that is, attacking the Obama administration and trying to dig up scandals, as typically occurs during periods of divided government.
So let’s take a look at several of the key GOPers who will be heading up these important House panels: Their backgrounds, their positions, their histories — and a few gaffes, too.
Appropriations: Hal Rogers (KY)
Rogers was first elected all the way back in 1980. His district voted for John McCain by 67%-31% in 2008. In 2010, he was re-elected by a margin of 77%-23%
Interestingly, after an election cycle dominated by denunciations of pork-barrel spending and earmarks, the race for Appropriations chair was between three GOP members who all have prolific records of getting earmarks for their district. Rogers defeated two other strong contenders, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) and Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA).
As the Associated Press reports:
According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Rogers and Lewis won $99 million and $98 million respectively in earmarks in the budget year ending Sept. 30, enough to rank 10th and 11th out of 435 House members. In the same period, Kingston sponsored or co-sponsored roughly $67 million in earmarks and ranked 32nd.
And as a special bonus, a product of the Tea Party-fueled activism that helped Republicans win the majority is that the House Appropriations Committee has a new chairman — who was previously named as “Porker of the Month” by Citizens Against Government Waste just this past August.
Armed Services: Buck McKeon (CA)
McKeon was first elected in 1992. His district voted for Barack Obama by 49%-48% in the big Democratic year of 2008, but previously voted for George W. Bush by 59%-40% in 2004. He was just re-elected by a 62%-38% margin in 2010.
Recently, following the release of the Pentagon’s study showing that it would not harm military interests to repeal the ban on gays openly serving, McKeon put out a press release calling for “vigorous oversight” of the report.
McKeon strongly opposed moving forward with the report’s recommendations immediately: “Today’s briefing and the release of the Pentagon’s report are the first steps in what should be a comprehensive process to study whether implementing these recommendations would undermine military readiness or negatively impact the war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Budget: Paul Ryan (WI)
Ryan was first elected in 1998. His district voted for Barack Obama by 51%-47% in 2008, and previously voted for George W. Bush by 53%-46% in 2004. He was just re-elected in 2010 by a margin of 68%-30%.
Ryan is best known for his long-term budget roadmap, which proposes to balance the budget with steps involving massive tax cuts for the wealthy, as well as privatizing Social Security and cutting Medicare.
Interestingly, it should be noted that Ryan voted in favor of the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, which drastically increased entitlement spending without actually paying for it.
He was recently a member of President Obama’s bipartisan deficit commission. He ultimately voted against the Bowles-Simpson plan to deal with the long-run debt problems — in part because it would have left the new health care reform essentially intact.
Energy and Commerce: Fred Upton (MI)
Upton was first elected to the House in 1986. His district voted for Barack Obama by 54%-44% in 2008, but previously voted for George W. Bush by 53%-46% in 2004. He was just re-elected in 2010 by a margin of 62%-34%.
Upton was actually opposed by some conservative activists, due to his role in passing legislation that will phase out the use of indoor incandescent lightbulbs.
However, what is more notable here is who did not get the gavel: The current ranking member, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), who rendered himself politically toxic when he apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward for the way the company was cajoled into setting up the $20 billion fund for Gulf spill damages.
Foreign Affairs: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL)
Ros-Lehtinen was first elected in a 1989 special election. Her district voted 51%-49% for Barack Obama in 2008, and previously voted by a narrow 54%-45% for George W. Bush in 2004. She was just re-elected in 2010 by a margin of 69%-31%.
Ros-Lehtinen was born in Havana, Cuba, and her family fled the country’s communist government when she was eight years old.
She has been an unwavering foe of Cuba since then — in 2006, she was videotaped saying: “I welcome the opportunity of having anyone assassinate Fidel Castro and any leader who is oppressing the people.” Her office at first denied that she said it — alleging that the video was spliced together — but she backed away from that when the raw video itself confirmed it.
On the foreign policy front, however, she recently did something that the Obama administration hasn’t been able to do: Forcing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to back down on something. In this case, the Israel supporter Ros-Lehtinen quickly got Bibi to clarify (and walk back) his praise of recent pro-Israel remarks from Fidel Castro.
Homeland Security: Peter King (NY)
King was first elected in 1992. His district voted for John McCain by a 52%-47% margin in 2008. He was just re-elected in 2010 by a margin of 72%-28%. He previously chaired this committee from 2005-2007, the last time that the GOP controlled the House.
On the one hand, King has been a staunch, hard-line Republican on issues relating to terrorism. He recently called for WikiLeaks to be declared a foreign terrorist organization. Back in August 2009, when it was announced that Attorney General Eric Holder would investigate past CIA interrogation practices, he said: “It’s bulls***. It’s disgraceful. You wonder which side they’re on.”
But on the other hand, King has himself had a long history of entanglement with a different kind of terrorist organization: The Irish Republican Army. Way back in 1982, he told a pro-IRA rally: “We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry.” And he also visited Ireland, and worked with pro-IRA groups, throughout the 1980s. On one occasion, he was ejected from a Belfast courtroom during a murder trial of IRA members, when the judge called him “an obvious collaborator with the IRA.”
King distanced himself from the IRA over the past decade, due to their opposition to the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, by 2008 he was publicly arguing in favor of bail for an IRA fugitive who was arrested in Texas — on immigration violations — after 15 years on the lam. As King said: “My experience dealing with (Irish) republicans is that they don’t jump bail in this country. They honor their commitments.”
Oversight and Government Reform: Darrell Issa (CA)
His district voted for John McCain by a 53%-45% margin in 2008. He was just re-elected in 2010 by a margin of 63%-31%.
Before entering politics, Issa was a businessman — a car alarm manufacturer whose flagship Viper product featured Issa’s own voice issuing a command: “Please step away from the car.” Oddly enough, in his younger days he was accused multiple times of car theft, a charge that he has denied.
(Issa says that his brother, a convicted car thief, had stolen his car and sold it to an auto dealership. Issa reported the car as stolen hours after the sale. He has also denied allegations that he stole a car from an Army post during his enlisted days, for which no charges were ever filed.)
He rose to national fame in 2003 when he helped finance the movement to recall California’s Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. Issa had originally intended to be a candidate himself in the recall election, but ultimately had to step aside as the Republican establishment united behind Arnold Scwarzenegger.
Back in May 2010, Issa speculated that the Obama administration’s efforts to lure Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) out of his primary challenge against Sen. Arlen Specter — via the kind of executive job offers that are commonly done in politics — could be “Obama’s Watergate,” a clear allusion to the idea of impeachment. In the run-up to the 2010 election, Issa laid out a comprehensive game plan of the many issues upon which he would investigate the Obama administration: FDA effectiveness, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, health care reform implementation, and other issues.
Since Election Day, however, he has toned down his rhetoric, saying that Obama is not “personally corrupt” — a big change from a previous statement while revving up the base on the Rush Limbaugh radio show, when he called Obama “one of the most corrupt Presidents in modern times.”
As a special bonus, he previously took a dim view in 2007 of Democratic investigations of the military contractor Blackwater. He offered this word of caution: “If Henry Waxman today wants to go to Iraq and do an investigation, Blackwater will be his support team. His protection team. Do you think he really wants to investigate directly?”
Science and Technology: Ralph Hall (TX)
Hall was first elected as a Democrat in 1980. He built up a solidly conservative record as one of the last old-time conservative Southern Dems, and supported Republican nominees for president. He finally switched parties in 2004, on the last day of candidates to file for the primary ballot. His district voted 69%-30% for John McCain in 2008, and in 2010 he was re-elected by a margin of 73%-22%.
In 2006, during the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, Hall attacked the testimony of a teenage girl who said that she had been the victim of the sex trade in the Northern Mariana Islands. In response, Hall said that “she wanted to do nude dancing.”
In May 2010, Hall pulled off an interesting parliamentary trick to delay a Democratic bill to increase funding for scientific research and math and science education. He introduced a motion to recommit it to its committee, with instructions to include language blocking the payment of federal employees who had been disciplined for viewing pornography at work. Thus, Democrats who voted against the motion to recommit could be accused of voting in favor of federal employees looking at porn on the taxpayer’s dime.
In addition, here are the other incoming chairs:
• Agriculture: Frank Lucas (OK)
• Education and Labor: John Kline (MN)
• Financial Services: Spencer Bachus (AL)
• Judiciary: Lamar Smith (TX)
• Natural Resources: Doc Hastings (WA)
• Small Business: Sam Graves (MO)
• Transportation and Infrastructure: John Mica (FL)
• Veterans’ Affairs: Jeff Miller (FL)
• Ways and Means: David Camp (MI)