Today Presents Early Test Of Tea Party Strength In House GOP: Committee Chair Elections

Today, the Republican Steering Committee will meet to select the GOP’s committee chairs for the 112th Congress. Most of the chairmen have been preordained, including a number of extreme conservatives we profiled in September who will head up some of the committees and subcommittees. These include incoming Judiciary Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), who hinted at impeaching President Obama over immigration, incoming Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration chairman Steve King (R-IA), who called immigration a “slow-motion Holocaust,” and incoming Financial Service Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy Ron Paul (R-TX), who said that “printing paper money is nothing short of counterfeiting.”

Two committees, on the other hand, have hotly contested battles that will come to a head today: the Appropriations Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee. In each case, the results will give us an early barometer of how much power the Tea Party will wield in Speaker Boehner’s House. The vote will be held by among the members of the Republican Steering Committee, which is composed of House conservatives handpicked by Boehner. However, despite the rightward tilt of the voting committee, early predictions don’t look good for the Tea Party.

APPROPRIATIONS: Three congressmen are vying to be the next head of the Appropriations Committee: Hal Rogers (R-KY), Jerry Lewis (R-CA), and Jack Kingston (R-GA). The two leading candidates, Rogers and Lewis, come with significant baggage. Rogers has shown such a love for earmarks throughout his tenure in Congress that he is affectionately known as the “Pork King.” Lewis, a rampant earmarker himself, is also one of the most corrupt members of Congress, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Because Lewis has served as the ranking member of the committee for three terms, per GOP Caucus rules he would need a special waiver from the Republican leadership in order to stay at the helm – a move that would further salt the Tea Party’s wounds. Tea Partiers are lining up behind the more conservative Jack Kingston – a recent vote conducted on a Tea Party Patriots conference call found 80 percent backed the Georgia congressman – but for now he trails in the race.

ENERGY AND COMMERCE: Joe Barton’s stranglehold on this committee was put in doubt the moment an apology to BP for an alleged “$20 billion shakedown” escaped his lips. However, by consistently kowtowing the Tea Party line – even joining the House Tea Party Caucus and winning the endorsement of the Tea Party godmother Michele Bachmann (R-MN) – Barton has clawed his way back into the chairman’s race. Like Lewis, Barton would need a special waiver in order to continue on, but in this case, Barton is the preferred choice of a majority of Tea Partiers. Early predictions, however, give the edge to Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI). In response, Tea Partiers have gone all-in against Upton. As ThinkProgress reported last month, Glenn Beck and FreedomWorks have orchestrated a major campaign against Upton, citing the fact that Upton introduced a bill to make light bulbs more energy-efficient. Reps. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) and John Shimkus (R-IL) are also running as compromise alternatives.

Today’s vote will be a telling tale of what happens when the Tea Party goes to Washington. Will Tea Partiers be “co-opted” and their power dissipated in Congress, as former Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott called for? Or will the “Tea Party takeover” of the GOP continue? If Rogers or Lewis win the Appropriations vote and Upton prevails on Energy and Commerce, business as usual will have prevailed in the GOP caucus. If Kingston and Barton get the nods, the Tea Party takeover lives on.


In a double blow to the Tea Party, Upton was selected to lead the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Rogers was picked as chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

Share Update