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Change in party control of U.S. House diminishes Southern clout

Just five House committees in new Congress will have Southerners at the helm

♦By Rich Shumate,

WASHINGTON (CFP) — When it comes to Southern clout in the U.S. House, what a difference an election makes.

In the recently departed Congress, with Republicans in control, 13 of the 22 committee chairs hailed from the 14 Southern states; in the newly installed Congress, with Democrats in charge, that number will fall to just five.

Five Southern Republican chairs retired, and one, Pete Sessions of Texas, went down to defeat in November. Those who stayed find themselves in the minority for the first time in eight years.

The switch in control has shifted power from the GOP, in which Southerners made up nearly half of the caucus, to the Democrats, where Southerners only make up a fifth. And that has led to reduced numbers of Southerners among committee chairs.

All five of the committees that will be chaired by Southern Democrats in the new Congress were chaired by Southern Republicans in the last Congress, so there will be no loss of influence on those panels.

Also, the outgoing majority whip, Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana, will be replaced by the incoming majority whip, Democrat Jim Clyburn of South Carolina. Both men remain the only Southern members in their party’s top leadership.

But eight other committees that had GOP chairmen will now be headed by lawmakers from outside the region. And that list contains a number of the most powerful and high-profile chairmanships in Washington, including Judiciary, Rules, Ways and Means, and Oversight and Reform.

The five Southern Democratic committee chairmen are John Yarmuth of Kentucky, Budget; Ted Deutch of Florida, Ethics; Bobby Scott of Virginia, Education and Labor; Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Homeland Security; and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, Science, Space and Technology.

Unlike Republicans, who select committee chairs by voting within the caucus, Democrats use seniority. All five of the Southern Democrats ascending to chairmanships had been the ranking Democratic member when Democrats were in the minority.

Scott, Thompson and Johnson, all members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are among eight new chairs who are African American or Latino. In the departing Republican Congress, all of the chairs were white, and 20 were men.

Southerners will make up a slight majority within the Republican caucus in the new Congress, which is reflected in the GOP’s new committee leadership. On 14 of the 22 House committees, the ranking Republican in the new Congress will be from the South.

Among the notable newcomers to that group are Kay Granger of Texas, who will be ranking member on Appropriations, and Doug Collins of Georgia, on Judiciary–the committee that would handle any impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

Michael McCaul of Texas, who had been chairman of Homeland Security, has shifted to become the new ranking member of Foreign Affairs.

Six Southern Republicans who had been chairs of their committees will continue as ranking members in the new Congress–Mike Conaway of Texas, Agriculture; Mac Thornberry of Texas, Armed Services; Steve Womack of Arkansas, Budget; Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, Education and Labor; Phil Roe of Tennessee, Veterans’ Affairs; and Kevin Brady of Texas, Ways and Means.

In addition to Granger and Collins, five other Southern Republicans were also newly named as ranking members–Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, Financial Services; Kenny Marchant of Texas, Ethics; Mike Rogers of Alabama, Homeland Security; Tom Cole of Oklahoma, Rules; and Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, Science, Space and Technology.

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Oklahoma U.S. Rep. Tom Cole: Trump owes Obama an apology

Oklahoma Republican calls Trump’s wiretap charge against Obama “reckless”

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Donald Trump may have carried U.S. Rep. Tom Cole’s district by 38 points in November, but the Oklahoma Republican is mincing no words in calling for Trump to apologize to former President Barack Obama over claims that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the presidential campaign.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma

Speaking to reporters in the Capitol March 17, Cole said there is “no indication” that Trump’s allegation against Obama is true.

“It’s not a charge I would ever have made. And frankly, unless you can produce some pretty compelling proof, then I think … President Obama is owed an apology,” said Cole.

“If (Obama) didn’t do it, we shouldn’t be reckless in accusations that he did.”

In a March 4 tweet, Trump claimed that Obama has his “wires tapped” in Trump Tower, his New York home. He followed that up with additional tweets comparing Obama’s conduct to the Watergate scandal that brought down Richard Nixon in 1974.

Trump has so far offered no evidence to back that claim, but he has not retracted it. Leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees from both parties have said the claim is unsubstantiated. Obama administration officials have also said the claim has no merit.

While other Republican leaders have distanced themselves from Trump’s wiretapping claim, none of them have gone as far as Cole in calling for an apology.

Cole has a place in the GOP leadership as a deputy whip to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. From 2006 to 2008, he served as chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the party’s House campaign arm.

Cole, from Moore, represents Oklahoma’s 4th District, which stretches from the southern Oklahoma City suburbs south to the Texas border. He has held the seat since 2003.

A college history professor before entering politics, Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, is one of only two Native Americans currently serving in Congress. The other is U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, a Republican who represents Oklahoma’s 2nd District.

In the 2016 election, Trump carried 66 percent of the vote in the 4th District, to just 28 percent for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn will resign at the end of current Congress

Coburn’s decision triggers second Senate election in the state this fall

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

oklahoma mugWASHINGTON (CFP) — Republican U.S. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma says he will leave office at the end of the year, triggering an election in November for the remaining two years of his term.

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn

Coburn, 65, has been battling a recurrence of prostate cancer. But he said in a statement that “this decision isn’t about my health, my prognosis or even my hopes and desires.”

“My commitment to the people of Oklahoma has always been that I would serve no more than two terms,” said Coburn, who was elected to the Senate in 2004 and re-elected in 2010. “Our founders saw public service and politics as a calling rather than a career.”

“I am now convinced that I can best serve my own children and grandchildren by shifting my focus elsewhere.”

Because Coburn is staying until the end of the year, his replacement will be selected by the voters, rather than by gubernatorial appointment.

The state’s other Senate seat, held by Republican James Inhofe, is also up for election in 2014. Inhofe is seeking a fourth full term.

Coburn’s decision will likely set off a scramble among Republicans for his seat. U.S. Reps. Tom Cole of Moore, James Lankford of Oklahoma City and Jim Bridenstine of Tulsa are being mentioned, as is Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

Given Oklahoma’s Republican tendencies, a Democratic pickup of Coburn’s seat would seem unlikely. A Democrat hasn’t won a Senate race in the Sooner State since 1990.

Coburn was an obstetrician in Muskogee when he entered politics by capturing a U.S. House seat in the Republican wave of 1994, winning in the 2nd District, which at the time was a Democratic bastion in the northeast corner of the state.

In 1997, he was part of a group of conservative House Republicans that led an ultimately unsuccessful coup to oust then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, earning him the ire of many GOP colleagures.

He didn’t seek re-election in 1998, abiding by a pledge he made to serve no more than two terms.

In 2000, Coburn returned to politics by winning U.S. Senate seat vacated by retiring Democratic Senator Don Nickles and was easily re-elected in 2010 with 70 percent of the vote. He had already said he would not run again in 2016 because of his self-imposed two-term limit.

In the Senate, Coburn has been a determined foe of wasteful government spending. Each year, he publishes a Wastebook, which highlights the more “egregious” examples of federal pork.

Coburn has faced serious medical issues, starting with melanoma as a young man before he went to medical school. He has also had colon cancer and had a benign brain tumor removed in 2007.

In November, he disclosed that he was being treated for a recurrence of prostate cancer. In January, he told Politico that he felt he was still strong enough to finish out his term, despite undergoing chemotherapy, but that health issues might force him to leave early.

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