House Democrats take power amid Texas delegation shakeup

ABBY LIVINGSTON | 1/13/2019, 11:40 a.m.
With the backing of Texas’ congressional Democrats, Nancy Pelosi on Thursday became the first U.S. House member to recapture the ...
U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is applauded after being elected House speaker at the start of the 116th Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 3. Jonathan Ernst of Reuters

The Texas Tribune

WASHINGTON – With the backing of Texas’ congressional Democrats, Nancy Pelosi on Thursday became the first U.S. House member to recapture the speaker’s gavel since the days Texan Sam Rayburn ruled Capitol Hill.

Pelosi’s second ascent to power was in part due to the massive shakeup in the Texas delegation in the November election, the result of a rash of congressional retirements and defeats – mostly on the Republican side.

Only one thing is souring the Democrats’ elation over taking back control of the U.S. House: the ongoing government shutdown.

But for one brief moment Thursday morning, as he shuffled into the Capitol for the last time as a congressman-elect, Colin Allred’s biggest problem was tracking down his new congressional pin.

“I’ve got to go get my pin,” Allred said, motioning to the lapel of his suit jacket. The former NFL player later compared his first day in Congress to his first pro game: “The nerves and the anticipation are the same.”

The Dallas Democrat was one of nine Texas freshmen sworn in for the first time on Thursday: Republican Dan Crenshaw and Democrats Sylvia Garcia and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher from the Houston area; Republicans Lance Gooden, Van Taylor and Ron Wright from the Dallas/Fort Worth region; Austin-area Republican Chip Roy; and El Paso Democrat Veronica Escobar.

It will be the most diverse U.S. Congress ever, but those demographic changes are especially striking and historic in Texas. Escobar, Garcia and Fletcher make up the largest freshman class of Texas women ever; Garcia and Escobar were the first-ever Latinas elected from the state. Allred boosts the state’s African American bloc.

Prior to the swearing-in ceremonies, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Houston Democrat, marveled that Texas congressional women had doubled in number, adding a “joyful noise” to the delegation.

Thursday’s big changes weren’t limited to freshmen. U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, became the first-ever African American from Texas to chair the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

She will be Texas’ lone committee chair – a reflection of the decimation of Texas’ clout in the new Congress. The seven Texas Republican chairmen from last term turned over their gavels to the new Democratic majority. As a consolation, Texas Republicans will hold onto several of the minority party’s top positions on committees.

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, will now be the ranking member of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, a powerful perch even for a minority member.

“I’ve been in there before,” Granger said of the minority-party blues. “... I didn’t enjoy much of it then, and I don’t enjoy much of it now.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, will begin his tenure as the ranking member on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, after he was term-limited out of leading the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee.

There will be three Republican ranking members in the new Congress: U.S. Reps. Kevin Brady of the Woodlands on the tax-writing U.S. House Ways and Means Committee; Mac Thornberry of Clarendon on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee; and Mike Conaway of Midland on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee.