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Harris sticks with Agriculture spending, Amodei likely to head DHS panel

Challenging DHS panel leadership had been last domino to fall as Cole finalizes subcommittee lineup

Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., leaves a House Republican Conference meeting on  Oct. 24, 2023.
Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., leaves a House Republican Conference meeting on Oct. 24, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Agriculture Appropriations Chairman Andy Harris on Friday said he’d decided to stick with his current role rather than move over to claim the vacant Homeland Security Subcommittee gavel.

That decision paves the way for Mark Amodei, R-Nev., to take the DHS subcommittee reins, according to sources familiar with the discussions. New House Appropriations Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., said he’d have a formal announcement on the full lineup of cardinals, as subcommittee chairs are known, later on Friday.

Harris’ decision was closely watched because of the potential for a domino effect on other subcommittees. Also, the Freedom Caucus member was considered likely to try to push the DHS panel’s product to the right on immigration-related issues — although on temporary visas for seasonal workers like Chesapeake Bay crab processors, Harris has sometimes been at odds with his more conservative colleagues.

But ultimately Harris, R-Md., decided his current panel, which funds the Food and Drug Administration as well as the Agriculture Department, was more suited to his constituents’ interests. He’s a physician who worked for Johns Hopkins Hospital, and corn and poultry among other agricultural interests are big business back home.

“If agriculture weren’t so important to my district, I would be more than happy to chair [Homeland Security],” Harris said. “I have no problem taking on challenges.” 

[New House Appropriations cardinals slate starts to take shape]

Cole’s ascension to the full committee gavel opened up the Transportation-HUD subcommittee slot, which Steve Womack, R-Ark., is filling. The former Homeland Security cardinal, David Joyce of Ohio, is moving into Womack’s old job leading the Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee, which opened up Joyce’s old slot.

Amodei couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, but he’s the obvious pick for DHS, given he already gave up Legislative Branch to David Valadao, R-Calif. It appeared that none of the more senior members above Amodei opted to take the Homeland Security panel, although Cole wasn’t commenting yet on Friday.

“I had some other people thinking about it that were senior,” Cole said. “There will be an announcement shortly.” 

The Homeland Security bill was the subject of significant drama as lawmakers rushed to finish fiscal 2024 appropriations last month. Appropriators were working on a full-year continuing resolution for the agency after negotiations fell apart late in the process, but they pivoted back to a full-year bill after last-second White House intervention.   

Amodei has described himself as a “pro-immigration Republican” and comes from a state with a large Hispanic population. But he also voted for House Republicans’ hard-line border security and immigration bill last year. 

The House Freedom Caucus would likely love to have one of their own leading the Homeland Security panel, as the border has been a top focus of the group. But along with his rural district, Harris has made changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program a top priority. 

Last year, Harris pushed for a pilot program that would block SNAP recipients from using those benefits to purchase unhealthy foods. This was rejected by Democrats and faced strong opposition from retailers, who argued it would turn grocery store employees into food police tasked with telling people what food they can and cannot buy. 

Briana Reilly contributed to this report.

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