Rep. Kevin Brady had an epic Thursday.
“We call it our doubleheader,” he said as he prepared for two very different events — a ceremonial portrait unveiling and his last baseball game as a member of Congress.
“Are you ready for the game?” someone called out, as friends and family crammed into his office.
“At my age, it’s impossible to stretch anything,” the Texas Republican replied to laughter. “The whole goal is to not get carried off the field.”
With just six months left before he retires, the baseball metaphors are coming in handy. He’s played in the annual Congressional Baseball Game since he first took his seat in the House in 1997, flashing back to his college days as an outfielder. And he’s held the top Republican spot on the powerful Ways and Means Committee since 2015, taking over for predecessor Paul D. Ryan.
He was chairman until 2019, when Democrats won control of the House, which means he gets his very own portrait that will hang in the committee room.
Unveiling that was the first item on the agenda Thursday. Painted by Texas native Steve Craighead, the portrait shows Brady wearing a suit with a blue tie, standing between the American and Texas flags with his hands on a desk.
“I asked for bangs, but I couldn’t sell them on it,” he joked. Brady is bald — and as his old baseball rival Rep. Cedric Richmond once said, he’s also “short, powerful [and] a pain in the ass to get out.”
Brady said his wife, Cathy, who helped shape the look and feel of the portrait, said it was best to not add too much.
“There’s no baseballs, and there’s no tax code,” he said. “It’s simple — it’s America and Texas.”
If he hadn’t chosen to retire after his 13th term, Brady would have had to step down from his spot as the top Republican on Ways and Means. GOP conference rules limit members to three terms.
“Did that factor into the decision? Yeah, some,” he said in April of last year as he announced his retirement plan.
A driving force behind the tax overhaul in 2017, Brady had a wild ride on the committee as Republicans pushed through the most sweeping set of changes to the tax code since the Reagan administration.
While he’s convinced that his party will win back the House in the midterms, he won’t say who should take his place as the top Ways and Means Republican. When No. 2 Devin Nunes made a surprise decision to leave Congress, the race was on for several members of the committee, including Florida’s Vern Buchanan and Nebraska’s Adrian Smith.
“This is a choice for a future Congress, but I am very optimistic about whoever it is,” Brady said.
Second-best second baseman
Optimism and his sense of humor have been a constant in Brady’s career, earning him a wide range of congressional friends. Many of them showed up for Thursday’s portrait unveiling, packing the room.
“I think half of Texas is here,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise said as he entered.
During his speech, Scalise read from a letter he claimed was penned by former President Donald Trump addressed to “the second-best second baseman.”
When it was Brady’s turn to speak, he fed the trash talk right back at Scalise. “You’ve just got to finally admit you are the second-best second baseman, at least in our townhouse,” he told the Louisiana Republican.
Brady, wearing the same outfit that was later revealed on his canvas likeness, thanked the current chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Richard E. Neal. He added a special request: Could the Democrat intervene with his party to get him some easy pitches?
“That’s not going to happen? As I was saying, bipartisanship is dead,” he added to laughter.
Everything in your body is sore
Brady has endured more hard knocks in his congressional baseball career than in his legislative one. He fractured and dislocated his shoulder during the game in 2003 and ended up at the hospital. And in 2019 he tore a biceps from the bone while at bat (later in the inning he cracked a rib), but he hid his injuries from manager Rep. Roger Williams so he could stay in the game.
It’s the cheering crowd and bright lights that make it hard for competitive members of Congress to quit.
“During the game, you feel like you’re 18 years old — you’re playing in a major league field in front of thousands of people,” Brady said. “The next morning, you feel 118 because everything in your body is sore.”
In his years playing for the GOP team, Brady said he’s had a lot of memories, but two involving his roommates stick out. One was when Scalise recorded the first out in 2018 after being gravely injured at a shooting during a 2017 practice. The other was during the 2005 game, when Illinois GOP Rep. John Shimkus pitched an inning in relief after enduring open-heart surgery just three months prior.
“Talk about gutsy,” Brady said. “He shouldn’t even have been jogging, much less pitching in that game.”
Between the portrait unveiling and the baseball game, Thursday felt like the end of an era for him in more ways than one. But Brady said he’s not done yet.
“There’s still a lot left in this session that I need to help lead on,” he said. “I love my job. I’m not disheartened or discouraged up here. I know who I work with, and I know what we’re capable of, and I’m optimistic.”
As for the spot opening up in his townhouse, his roommates won’t be posting an ad on Craigslist anytime soon.
“We expect, when I leave, that Jake Ellzey from Texas will be moving into the townhouse,” he said. “He’s a really fine man and a good fit.”