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U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Texas seen as contender to chair powerful Appropriations Committee

A New Jersey congressman's announcement Monday that he was retiring immediately set off speculation as to who might replace him as chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. One contender: U.S. Rep. Kay Granger.

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth.

WASHINGTON – It's not often that what happens in the Garden State matters much in Texas. But on Monday the retirement of U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-New Jersey, created a major opportunity for a member of the Texas delegation. 

Frelinghuysen is the chairman of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, the arm of Congress that influences spending policy. U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth is widely considered a serious contender for the the chairmanship, multiple GOP House sources tell The Texas Tribune. 

Granger confirmed Monday afternoon on Twitter that she was running for the position.

"This is a very challenging time for our country, and Chairman Frelinghuysen will leave tough shoes to fill," Granger tweeted. "I will work hard to earn the support of my colleagues, and I look forward to a spirited race."

There are few positions more coveted than this role, and it would come at a time when Texas will begin losing chairmanships on other committees due to term limits. 

Seniority is a top consideration when deciding any committee leadership. Granger, who chairs the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, is the fourth most senior Republican on Appropriations after Frelinghuysen, U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky and U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama. 

Rogers previously served as chairman, but Granger's main competition appears to be Aderholt. Capitol Hill sources tell the Tribune he will pose a formidable obstacle to Granger. Besides seniority, he is a proven whip-counter, a highly prized skill among House GOP leadership. Aderholt announced on Twitter early Monday afternoon that he would run for the slot.

But Granger has her own strengths. She is an adept fundraiser and supports the campaigns of colleagues. The GOP is also bleeding female members in the House, thanks to retirements and women opting to run for U.S. Senate and governors' seats around the country. 

An interest from GOP leaders in placing females in more prominent positions could boost Granger's chances.

Granger is widely considered a powerful, albeit quiet, force within Congress. First elected in 1996, she is the only female Republican serving in Congress from Texas and the last freshman woman elected to a full term in Congress from the state.

Most chairmanships, including the House Appropriations Committee's, are essentially decided after the November elections among several dozen Republicans who serve on the House Steering Committee. Two Texans - U.S. Reps. Lamar Smith of San Antonio and John Carter of Round Rock – currently serve on that committee. Smith announced his retirement in November but another Texan will likely replace him.  

The party's leader in the House holds outsized influence within the steering committee. Rumors are circulating that U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan might retire, which would further complicate the dynamics of the selection process.

While the current Texas delegation holds seven committee chairmanships, the gavels will begin phasing out next term due to term limits. A Granger chairmanship would do much to staunch the diminishment of delegation power in the GOP conference.

It would also mean Houston and southeast Texas would have a high-ranking, in-state advocate as the region continues to seek federal assistance while recovering from Hurricane Harvey. 

But there could be one brutal irony in the Frelinghuysen retirement for Granger or whoever else assumes the committee leadership.

The 12-term congressman had two terms remaining in his chairmanship. Prior to this year, Frelinghuysen's suburban New York City district was not considered competitive. But his chances for re-election began to grow dimmer with each passing week of the Trump era and his retirement is widely viewed as another indicator that the party is in treacherous territory in the coming midterms. 

Should a once-safe seat like Frelinghuysen's flip to the Democrats, it is hard to see how the GOP could maintain control of the U.S. House. That means Granger could end up finding herself in the top minority position on the committee – ranking member – rather than chairwoman. 

The current top Democrat on the committee is a close friend of Granger's, U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey of New York. The pair share one of the most notable bipartisan friendships at the Capitol. 

Tribune efforts to reach Granger on Monday were unsuccessful.

Granger is running unopposed in the March 6 Republican primary. Democrat Vanessa Adia is also running for the seat. 

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