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Rep. Owens weighs intercepting a House Appropriations seat

Lawmaker could vie for seat left open by former Utah colleague Chris Stewart

Rep. Burgess Owens leaves a House GOP conference meeting on Oct. 13.
Rep. Burgess Owens leaves a House GOP conference meeting on Oct. 13. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As House Republicans’ open Appropriations seat remains unfilled because of the drama of the past month, a new contender for the seat is emerging: Utah Rep. Burgess Owens is considering a bid.

Owens, a former NFL safety who played for the New York Jets and Oakland (now Las Vegas) Raiders, would jump into what had been a three-way race between Oregon’s Lori Chavez-DeRemer, New York’s Nick LaLota and North Carolina’s Chuck Edwards. 

Former Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, resigned from the Appropriations Committee and left Congress in mid-September to spend more time with his wife after she suffered a stroke. Owens spokeswoman Emma Hall confirmed his potential interest in vying for the seat left open by his former home-state colleague, though he hasn’t made a decision.

The Republican Steering Committee had been expected to fill the seat in late September, but that was postponed because of the government funding deadline and later the House’s lack of a speaker after Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., lost the job. 

It will be at least another week until the Appropriations panel role is filled, as the conference is now set to select a new vice chair to replace Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., on Nov. 8. Since the vice chair is on the Steering Committee, sources familiar with the race expect the Appropriations seat to be filled after a new vice chair has been elected. 

[Jockeying for Rep. Stewart’s Appropriations seat in full swing]

However, at that time the House will be scrambling to pass a stopgap spending measure by Nov. 17, when the current continuing resolution runs out. It’s possible that the selection of a new Appropriations member could continue to slip, though the timing of the selection is up to Johnson. 

With no more markups of appropriations bills expected in committee for the fiscal 2024 cycle, there is no immediate time pressure for Republicans to fill the seat. The party is going straight to the floor with the Labor-HHS-Education and Commerce-Justice-Science bills, skipping markups amid disputes over spending levels and policy riders in those bills. 

Utah connection

Owens is a staunch conservative who was first elected in 2020 by just 1 percentage point over Democratic incumbent Ben McAdams in the Salt Lake City-area district. 

He currently serves on the Education and the Workforce and Transportation and Infrastructure committees, and would likely highlight his Utah connection in a campaign to replace Stewart on appropriations. 

Regional representation is a central pitch of each of the three Republicans already running for the seat. 

Edwards, who served on the North Carolina Senate’s Appropriations Committee before coming to Congress, has the support of influential members of the North Carolina delegation, including National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Richard Hudson and Financial Services Chairman Patrick T. McHenry. The Tar Heel State has no representation on the committee after longtime Democratic appropriator David E. Price did not seek reelection last year. 

Chavez-DeRemer was considered an early favorite for the role under McCarthy, as she would keep the seat in the hands of a member from the West. She would be the first appropriator from Oregon since 1993, when Democrat Les AuCoin served on the committee. 

She’s also from a swing district, rated a Toss-up by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. 

LaLota, a former Suffolk County elections commissioner, is one of a handful of freshman Republicans from New York who were crucial in the party’s recapturing of the House in 2022. His district is rated Lean Republican by Inside Elections. 

Stewart’s retirement has also opened up his seats on Appropriations subcommittees, most prominent of which is his very coveted slot on the Defense panel. He also served on the Interior-Environment and State-Foreign Operations subcommittees. 

Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, decides subcommittee assignments. Granger could wait for the open slot to be filled before reshuffling the subcommittees to take into account the experience of the new committee member.

Steering makeup 

The Steering Committee consists of over 30 voting members, with Johnson now controlling four votes, Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., controlling two and remaining members having one each.

McCarthy is now off the committee, with Johnson’s ascension clearly changing the contours of the race for the Appropriations seat and any other panel assignments that become available.

Both Chavez-DeRemer and LaLota did not support House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan’s bid to become speaker on the floor last month, which could upset some McCarthy allies on the committee. McCarthy strongly supported Jordan’s bid for the gavel. 

But the Steering Committee consists of a wide range of members from the conference, with leadership, regional representatives, and sophomore and freshman class representatives. Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., the dean of the House, is also on the committee.

Like any speaker, McCarthy had an outsize role in the makeup of the Steering Committee. However, as it’s an elected body, a rule change would be needed to change the makeup of the committee, according to member Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.

“The speaker does have some appointments, so that he could change, but as far as everybody else, no,” said Diaz-Balart, who is also a senior appropriator. “We’d have to change the rules.”

There is one voting seat on Steering that the speaker appoints, currently filled by Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla. There is no indication that Johnson is planning on replacing Donalds at this point. 

Elected Leadership Chairman Garret Graves, R-La., is also on Steering, though as a non-voting member. It’s unclear if Graves, a strong McCarthy ally, will remain in the position under the new speaker.

Along with the Appropriations seat, Stewart was on the Intelligence Committee, which Steering will have to fill. When he ascended to the speakership, Johnson resigned from his seats on Judiciary and Armed Services, which will also have to be filled.

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