Amid Trump fallout, congressional chairs rally to save their gavels

Texas Republicans would lose seven committee chairmanships if their party loses control of the U.S. House.

U.S. Republican Reps. from the Texas delegation (l-r) Top row: Michael McCaul, Mike Conaway, Kevin Brady; Center: Mac Thornberry; Bottom row: Lamar Smith, Pete Sessions and Jeb Hensarling.
U.S. Republican Reps. from the Texas delegation (l-r) Top row: Michael McCaul, Mike Conaway, Kevin Brady; Center: Mac Thornberry; Bottom row: Lamar Smith, Pete Sessions and Jeb Hensarling.  Official House Portraits

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect current fundraising totals.

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s polling freefall is shaping up to be not merely a presidential problem for Republicans but also a major congressional complication for the party.

And no state would feel that impact quite like Texas. 

There is a quiet but increasing fear among Republicans that Trump’s turmoil is putting control of the U.S. House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a 59-seat majority, into play. If that was to occur, Texas Republicans would lose seven committee chairmanships. 

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

But none of those chairmen are in danger of losing their own re-election bids, so they've spent the past two years raising money to protect their colleagues. Those funds are now being deployed nationwide to save the House.  

“It’s a part of the job, and frankly, it’s a part of our push for better solutions,” U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady of The Woodlands told the Tribune in September.

Brady is one of seven Texas chairmen whose jurisdictions cover a wide swath of issues including national security, fiscal policy, the flow of legislation, farming and NASA. Combined, they’ve raised over $11.7 million to save their colleagues this cycle. 

Because so few seats were drawn to be competitive in the last round of redistricting, most members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are expected to donate much of their campaign money to more vulnerable members and to their House campaign arms. 

Few have higher fundraising expectations upon them than chairmen. The Texans, who come from a state that already has a reputation for sending campaign money to the the rest of the country, are key financial drivers. 

“If we want our vision for tax reform and the economy and national security to go forward, we need members of Congress who support those bold reforms," Brady said. "Which is why as chairman, I enjoy helping raise resources to reelect members I know who are committed to those as well as support candidates who want to change the direction of the country.”

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The seven chairmen from Texas have collectively raised over $11.7 million, according to a Texas Tribune analysis of Federal Election Commission records and information provided by the members’ political operations.

Here is how their fundraising breaks down by member:

  • U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady of The Woodlands, Ways and Means Committee chairman, raised $2.2 million.
  • U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Dallas, Financial Services Committee chairman, raised about $2 million. 
  • U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin, Homeland Security Committee chairman, raised $2 million.
  • U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions of Dallas, Rules Committee chairman, raised $1.5 million.
  • U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry of Clarendon, Armed Services chairman, raised about $830,000. 
  • U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway of Midland, Agriculture Committee chairman, raised about $2.3 million.
  • U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith of San Antonio, Science, Space and Technology Committee chairman, raised in the ballpark of $700,000.

The money is going toward airing political ads from California to Maine to shore up Republicans in tight races. 

As it stands, the Texas chairmens' gavels appear secure. 

Early in the cycle, Democrats missed some key House candidate recruiting opportunities. Seats that now appear competitive lack a Democrat on the ballot. But the bigger obstacle is the U.S. House district map, which GOP-dominated state houses across the country drew in 2011, often stacked in favor of GOP control. 

Yet Trump so threw the party into turmoil following the release of a video showcasing his vulgar sexual assault comments that strange political circumstances are emerging — like speculation that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton could win Texas and chatter that Trump could be dragging down Republican House incumbents and, in effect, jeopardizing the House. 

Democrats must capture 30 seats to win control. Even the most grim-faced GOP operatives in Washington ballpark their party's losses only at 20 seats — for now. But there is increasing concern about Trump's polling deterioration. 

Nathan Gonzales is the editor of The Rothenberg Gonzales Political Report, a nonpartisan handicapping guide, and he concurs. 

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“The Republican majority in the House isn't on the verge of collapse,” he wrote in an email to the Tribune. “But with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, Republicans can't afford to take anything for granted.”

“There are still three weeks before Election Day and 24 hours in each day — all opportunities for Trump to tank his chances even further and take Republicans down with them,” he added. 

Such a scenario would be a blow to Texas political power in Washington. The state's high number of chairmanships are a point of pride among Tex-pats in the District of Columbia.  

It would mean lost gavels, lost power and lowered profiles among a group that is central to the country’s financial and defense policy.

But it also could translate to empowering a pair of Texas Democrats.  

With her party in control of the House, U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, would be in line to take over as chair of Smith’s Science, Space and Technology Committee, which includes legislating Houston’s NASA. 

Futhermore, U.S. Rep. Gene Green of Houston would likely take over the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health, a position that several House Democratic aides described as more powerful than many chairmanships. 

That would put Green at the center of a particularly high-profile issue. If the new president and Congress aimed to make changes to President Obama’s health care law, it would run through Green’s jurisdiction.  

Green and Johnson are helping their Democratic colleagues across the country as well.  

Green has raised over $330,000 and Johnson raised $136,000 for the House Democratic campaign arm and individual general election campaigns the party has indicated are competitive, according to internal party documents obtained by the Tribune. 

Read more about Texans in Congress: