The Oklahoman: New Congress will give Oklahoma more muscle

Nov 22, 2022
In The News

Last year, when Rep. Tom Cole tried to amend a spending bill to include more money for tribal courts and law enforcement, the House Rules Committee stuck his proposal in a bloc of amendments that was doomed to fail. And it did.

Next year, Cole won’t have any problem getting better treatment for his amendments. He is in line to be the chairman of the Rules Committee. And as a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, he could flex his muscles there, as well.

Oklahoma’s influence in the U.S. House will grow significantly when Republicans take over in January, with the state delegation’s two senior members, Cole and Frank Lucas, set to lead committees and two newer representatives gaining stature in leadership roles.

The elevation of Cole and Rep. Frank Lucas to chairman positions may mark the first time in history that two Oklahomans lead U.S. House committees at the same time, the two lawmakers said.

Oklahoma’s two U.S. senators will serve in Democratic-led body

All five Oklahoma members of the House are Republicans; Rep. Markwayne Mullin, who represents the 2nd District, comprising much of eastern Oklahoma, won the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Jim Inhofe and will be succeeded by Josh Brecheen, a Republican from Coalgate.

The Senate will remain in Democratic control when the next Congress begins. As a freshman in the minority party, Mullin will be a long way from filling the void left by Inhofe, who has served 28 years and chaired two major committees.

“I don’t know that people truly appreciate Inhofe’s clout,” said Lucas, who will become the dean of the state’s congressional delegation when Inhofe departs.

Sen. James Lankford, who has been in the Senate for nearly eight years, will move up in seniority but not enough to nab a top Republican spot.

Cole’s long tenure will provide him strong policy voice

Cole, R-Moore, who has been in Congress since 2003, is currently the top Republican on the Rules Committee, the last stop for bills and amendments before they go to a full House vote. The committee picks the amendments that will be debated, sometimes choosing among hundreds offered by members of both parties.

“It’s called the speaker’s committee for a reason,” Cole said, noting that it is always stacked heavily in favor of the party that controls the House.

“It’s the way the speaker exerts his or her influence on the (legislative) process.”

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, is expected to be elected speaker when the new Congress begins.

At the same time he leads the Rules Committee, Cole will be among the most senior members of the Appropriations Committee, arguably the most powerful since it decides where money is spent.

Cole has used his position on the panel to steer money to medical research and to universities and military bases in his district.

Lucas, R-Cheyenne, who led the House Agriculture Committee from 2011 through 2014 and helped write a farm bill whose main principles are still in effect, is now in line to head the Science, Space and Technology Committee. He is currently the top Republican on the panel and co-authored the CHIPS bill passed this year to encourage semiconductor manufacturing and STEM education in the United States.

Lucas is expected to take the helm of that panel in January. It oversees NASA, the National Science Foundation, the National Weather Service and several other agencies. 

Lucas has been able to negotiate complex legislation even in hyperpartisan times and said his focus will be on issues like weather forecasting, the space program, climate change and education.

“How do we develop enough scientists, engineers and mathematicians to live up to what industry needs?” he said.

Lucas is also one of the most senior members of the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees the banking, insurance and housing industries. He took a break from the Agriculture Committee but may seek to claim a spot next year as a new farm bill is written.

What committees will Reps. Stephanie Bice, Kevin Hern and Josh Brecheen serve on?

Rep. Stephanie Bice, of Oklahoma City, currently serves on the Science, Space and Technology Committee and on the Armed Services Committee. She may look to get a seat on Appropriations.

The GOP’s freshman class president was chosen last week to represent sophomores on the Elected Leadership Committee. She appeared at a news conference with McCarthy and other Republicans expected to serve in the House GOP leadership next year.

Rep. Kevin Hern, who won a third term this month in his Tulsa-area district, was chosen by members of the Republican Study Committee to lead that group of conservatives, who are known for developing their own budget blueprint. Hern will also gain seniority on the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax policy and entitlement programs.

Cole praised Hern and Bice, saying their new positions have “enormously enhanced the influence of Oklahoma and our delegation.”

Brecheen likely won’t get committee assignments until early next year. Republicans won far fewer seats than they expected, meaning open committee slots will be limited.

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