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Republican House Committee Leadership
Ways and Means, Energy & Commerce, Approps, Financial Services, Judiciary, Ag, Science
Having finally resolved the insurrectionist-wing objections to oil-patch Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) becoming Speaker of the House on the 15th ballot at the witching hour last Friday, the Republican caucus is moving today to pick the chairs of committees. Below, the U.S. Climate Politics Almanac looks at some of the committees with key influence over climate priorities.
Ways and Means
The biggest contest is over which Republican will take over from Richard Neal (D-Mass.), the finance-friendly outgoing Ways and Means chair whose window-dressing retirement security legislation recently became law. The leading candidate is Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), a gun safety moderate who spoke out against Trump exiting the Paris climate agreements and opposes oil drilling off the coast of Florida (though supports it elsewhere). The other top contenders are Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) and Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.). In contrast with Buchanan, both Smiths voted to overturn the 2020 election results, and Jason Smith has engaged in harsh attacks against the “unreal Green New Deal.” If Jason Smith fails to win the Ways and Means job, he’ll probably compete in another crowded field for the chairmanship of the House Budget Committee.
Energy and Commerce
Navigating caucus splits over prescription drug pricing has been the main concern of outgoing Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), but continuing her attacks on the Inflation Reduction Act’s methane fee will likely be the major priority of incoming Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.). McMorris Rodgers has been touted as an “understated” Republican rising star for years, though (or because) she holds quite extreme views, including denial of evolution and climate science. She was expected to promote expanded drilling as Trump’s reported pick for Interior Secretary, though that job ultimately went instead to Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), who has now returned to Congress.
The inclusion of appropriations riders to “must-pass” government spending bills is one of the main ways that policy change occurs during periods of divided government, as seen during the Obama administration when Congress lifted the oil export ban near the end of 2015. Appropriations Chair Rosa De Lauro (D-Conn.), who has shown a past willingness to challenge Democratic presidents from the left on issues like family leave and trade, will be replaced by Ranking Member Kay Granger (R-Texas). Granger is a former mayor of Fort Worth who started out as a relative moderate within the caucus, but has hardened her stances, most notably against abortion, in order to fend off right-wing primary challenges.
Chair Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), whose dogged efforts to include substantial housing provisions in Build Back Better were stripped out (at great economic cost) by King Manchin, will hand the gavel to the bow-tied Rep. Pat McHenry (R-N.C.). Some Democrats have praised McHenry’s willingness to work across the aisle, though with the majority in his sights after 2020, he abandoned compromise on flood insurance reform and contradicted some bipartisan positions from his past. His fetishization of (and fundraising from) supposedly “innovative” fintech and cryptocurrency interests did bring him to the table this past summer, as he and Waters struggled to negotiate a dangerous regulatory framework for crypto just weeks before the collapse of FTX. As recently as mid-October, McHenry was indicating that he’d continue to work on that proposal, which he referred to as an “ugly baby,” though it is unclear what will happen coming out of December hearings on FTX.
McHenry has made vehement opposition to climate financial regulation less central to his rhetoric than his retiring Senate counterpart Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and has sounded moderate notes on ESG investing, but has joined Toomey in railing against the SEC’s climate disclosure rule. The main question is whether McHenry will deploy his oversight staff’s work on probing the supposed “cancer” of socially conscious investing, as previewed by the Washington Post, and/or or cater to numerous Republican members pushing the federal equivalent to “forced fossil fuel financing” laws being pursued aggressively at the state level.
The September passage of a bipartisan bill strengthening antitrust enforcement was the culmination of four years of work by outgoing Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), a Green New Deal champion who has overseen a revolution in antitrust reform. The extent to which this work continues (and any supposed Republican realignment) hinges on how Nadler’s successor as chair, House Freedom Caucus leader Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), uses the position. Jordan’s Big Tech “censorship” concerns have led him to voice some support for antitrust, but he has strongly opposed real antitrust reform. All signs indicate that Jordan, a fossil fuel defender with a sordid personal history, will use his Judiciary gavel to squelch any Republican policy realignment by investigating FTC Chair Lina Khan and stonewalling any attempt by Attorney General Merrick Garland to prosecute Trump.
One of the single biggest policy items on the agenda in the next Congress is the farm bill, which passes every five years and is due for reauthorization in 2023. Now that Democrats have retained control of the Senate and have a larger-than-expected caucus in the House, they may have some leverage to insert climate provisions into the bill. Early last year, certain congressional Democrats questioned whether outgoing House Agriculture Chair David Scott (D-Ga.), a vocal Keystone XL supporter, had the wherewithal to oversee the process. Scott’s replacement as chair will be Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Penn.), who has criticized climate investments and said he will “make sure the farm bill doesn’t become the climate bill.”
Incoming chair Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) is considered reasonable and moderate by recent standards, unlike former Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), whose chairmanship was openly anti-scientific and extremist, staffing the committee with fossil-fuel industry lobbyists. In contrast, Lucas had a respectful relationship with outgoing chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), is a supporter of NOAA and the National Weather Service, and helped return the committee towards its more bipartisan reputation of backing federal research and development and the aerospace industry. Lucas embraces the same “all-of-the-above” stance on climate policy as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). Lucas is a strong ally of his district’s fracking industry, opposes the Paris Agreement, and voted to overturn Biden’s 2020 election. We can also expect him to push Solyndra-like investigations of Biden administration grants to clean-energy companies.