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Granger won’t seek reelection in 2024

House Appropriations chairwoman who backed higher defense budgets faced term limits on her position

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, center, looks on as the House tries unsuccessfully to elect a speaker on Oct. 20. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., is on Granger's right, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., is to her left.
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, center, looks on as the House tries unsuccessfully to elect a speaker on Oct. 20. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., is on Granger's right, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., is to her left. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger will retire from Congress rather than run again next year, the veteran lawmaker announced Wednesday.

Granger, 80, was first elected in 1996 and has been the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee since 2018. The news of her pending retirement was first reported by Fort Worth Report, a nonprofit newsroom that covers her district, which includes Fort Worth and its northwestern suburbs. 

Granger, the first female Republican House member from Texas, said in a statement that she believes it is time for the next generation of leaders in her district to step forward.

“Serving my community has been the greatest honor, and I have always fought to improve the lives of my constituents,” Granger said in an emailed statement.

Granger plans to serve out the rest of her term and work with new Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and other colleagues “to advance our conservative agenda and finish the job I was elected to do,” she said.

Granger was elevated to chairwoman when Republicans took back the House in the 2022 midterms, after serving as the committee’s ranking member for the previous four years. She became the first Republican woman to claim the gavel of the powerful spending committee.

“Kay boasts a remarkable list of ‘firsts,’” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., a senior appropriator, said in a Wednesday statement. “She stands as one of the most formidable, principled, and influential members of Congress.” 

House Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said in a statement Wednesday that she and Granger “have mutual respect and a long history of bipartisan success” and said Granger is a trailblazer for women in local, state and federal government.

“She has been a leading voice on the House Appropriations Committee for more than two decades, a steadfast leader in foreign affairs and defense policy, and laser-focused on making our nation more secure,” DeLauro said.

Granger faced term limits in her position as Appropriations chairwoman, and would have needed a waiver from leadership to continue in that role in the next Congress.

Her decision will pave the way for what could be a crowded race to replace Granger as the top Republican on House Appropriations, though Rules Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., is seen as the early favorite for the role. 

Legacy

A staunch supporter of military spending, Granger had served as the chairwoman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. She’s also led Republicans on the State-Foreign Operations panel. 

Granger has been a longtime backer of the F-35 fighter jet program, and Lockheed Martin Corp. assembles the jets in her district. The Air Force is also set to base 26 jets in Fort Worth within sight of Lockheed’s facility. The program, like many major defense development programs, has faced cost overruns and schedule delays.

Granger served on the Forth Worth city council starting in 1989, and later as the city’s mayor from 1991 to 1995. She was recruited by both parties to run for Congress when a seat became open due to a retirement, and has never run in a close race during her ascension to the Appropriations chairmanship, one of the most important jobs in Washington. 

She’s also been a staunch advocate of a controversial city flood protection project in Fort Worth, the Panther Island/Center City flood project. Her son, J.D. Granger, had led the effort before stepping aside last year. 

The Army Corps of Engineers announced $403 million for the project in early 2022, a decision heralded by Granger. However, that funding was from the bipartisan infrastructure law that Granger voted against. 

J.D. Granger had suggested both he and his mother would retire once the project was complete soon after she was elected to the top GOP appropriations role in 2018, though he later walked back those comments.

Tumultuous year

Granger has faced a tumultuous year leading the committee, navigating members of the House Freedom Caucus and their allies calling for deeper spending cuts than the levels appropriators had been pursuing this summer.

While Granger had been writing her fiscal 2024 bills to come in under the caps set in the debt limit law as spending hawks sought, appropriators used $115 billion in rescissions of previously appropriated but unspent funds to bolster program levels, which upset some on the right. 

Granger wields the gavel at a House Appropriations Committee markup on Tuesday, July 18, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

While House appropriators have been able to reignite the process with Johnson installed as speaker, the overall challenges facing appropriators with the party’s slim majority remain.

And Granger’s vote against Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, to become speaker garnered backlash from Jordan supporters, some of whom had called for her ouster. Granger said at the time that the conference’s first nominee to replace California Republican Kevin McCarthy, Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., had earned her support instead.

She was also facing a primary challenge in her district from John O’Shea, a local businessman who has criticized Granger as not sufficiently conservative and blasted her for opposing Jordan. 

And some conservative activists in her home county, Tarrant County, have been attempting to censure or condemn Granger for a variety of votes they deem not sufficiently in line with their beliefs, including her vote to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for spending caps and some policy changes. These efforts have thus far been unsuccessful.

Granger’s seat would likely be fairly easy for Republicans to defend, even if they can’t replicate Granger’s typically outsize victories, including a 29-point margin in 2022. Former President Donald Trump carried Texas’ 12th District by 18 points in 2020.

Race for the top slot

Cole is seen as the front-runner to take over Granger’s slot as top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, though others could throw their names into the mix. Cole, currently also chairman of the panel’s Transportation-HUD Subcommittee, gave a nominating speech for Jordan on the floor during the speaker election that was well received by conservatives.

However, the elevation of Johnson as speaker is a definite wrinkle in the race, and others are expected to run for the coveted post. 

Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert, R-Calif., could also seek the role and follow in Granger’s footsteps going from leading the Defense panel to leading the full committee. However, Calvert himself is in a competitive 2024 race, which is rated Lean Republican by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. 

“Right now, Rep. Calvert is focused on being chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and providing for the defense of our nation,” Calvert spokesman Jason Gagnon said in response to a question about the potential race. 

Granger prevailed in what started as a five-way race to be the ranking member in 2018, defeating Cole, now-Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee Chairman Robert B. Aderholt, R-Ala., and then-Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga. 

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, dropped out after the race became one for ranking member and not chairman when Republicans lost control of the chamber in the 2018 midterms. 

Simpson, who now chairs the Interior-Environment subcommittee, and Aderholt both could also throw their names into the ring again. 

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Aderholt said Granger’s “shoes will not be easily filled” but strongly hinted he was thinking of giving it a go.

“When the time comes, and our conference gives thought to who they want to take up the mantle of House Appropriations, I will be considering, and most certainly praying, about how I could use my talents and experience to advance our party’s message and goals, which is ultimately about making this nation strong again, respected again, and of course fiscally responsible again,” Aderholt said.

Other senior appropriators who could conceivably run are Financial Services Subcommittee Chairman Steve Womack, R-Ark., and Diaz-Balart, the State-Foreign Operations chairman. However, both of them, and Simpson, voted against Jordan and could face opposition from the Ohioan’s supporters in their future endeavors. 

The House Freedom Caucus could make a play for the job with Agriculture Appropriations Chairman Andy Harris, R-Md., though it’s likely the GOP steering committee would back a more establishment-affiliated option.

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