Cathy McMorris Rodgers: Back on the Inside Track?

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U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-5-Wash., has snagged a coveted job in the 117th Congress.  She will be ranking Republican member (paired with the Democratic chair) on the influential, multitasking House Energy and Commerce Committee.  She beat out two male colleagues for the job. Even so, the “gentlelady” from Eastern Washington, about to begin her ninth term, has experienced ups and downs in the past two years.

She beat a tough foe, Democrat Lisa Brown, in a nationally watched 2018 campaign, holding her seat while Republicans lost control of the House.  In turn, McMorris Rodgers relinquished her leadership position as chair of the House Republican Conference. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, announced for the post and gave McMorris Rodgers a choice:  Move on over or I’ll move on over you.

McMorris Rodgers, 51, is in a much happier position two years later.  Republicans made unexpected gains in the House, fueled by the success of women candidates.  The number of GOP “gentleladies” totals 29, doubled from the 2018 election.

With her new post on Energy & Commerce, McMorris Rodgers is succeeding in the top Republican seat a fellow Northwesterner, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon, who decided not to seek reelection.  She was full of partisan fire and Democrat-demonizing on Thursday, saying: “From blatant assaults on free speech, to Medicare-for-all, to the Green New Deal, Energy and Commerce is at the center of the battle for freedom to beat socialism and hope to beat fear.”

She has been allied with President Trump. McMorris Rodgers announced that she was voting for Donald Trump just before Washington’s 2016 Republican primary.  She was a finalist for the job of U.S. Interior Secretary, despite little experience with environmental issues.  She was honorary co-chair of the 2020 Trump reelection campaign in Washington.

The role played by women in the House Republican Caucus will be worth watching in the upcoming Congress. The usual practice has been to have one woman in a junior leadership job, up front with the suits at news conferences.  Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash., had the job in the 1990s.  When Dunn tried to run for House Majority Leader, however, she drew little support. McMorris Rodgers stood beside House Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan for much of the past decade. 

She churned out talking points for the GOP’s 2017 tax cut.  She has been less involved in state issues, being notably absent-from-battle in the congressional delegation’s bipartisan effort to restore the U.S. Export-Import Bank.  She did not sign the Discharge Petition which bypassed Republican leaders and forced a vote.

The 2020 election reduced Democrats to a narrow House majority.  If Republicans recapture control in 2022, McMorris Rodgers will have the inside track to chairing one of Congress’ most important committees. Energy and Commerce has jurisdiction that stretches from health care to environmental policy, from broadband to energy policy. Its once-feared Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee conducted hearings on the abuses of liposuction surgery.

The panel is for legislators, currently chaired by New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone.  As a freshman member, 40 years ago, Rep. Al Swift, D-2-Wash., wrote and passed the Northwest Power Act, creating a region-wide planning panel and giving conservation equal footing with generation in meeting the region’s power needs.

Other women in the Republican caucus will have clout in the new Congress.  Liz Cheney has upstaged suits in the leadership.  Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, will be ranking GOP member of the House Appropriations Committee.  A dimmer bulb in the caucus, Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, will be ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee.

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I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and SeattlePI.com from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.

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