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Briefings: Cast Changes Break up Rules Committee’s Odd Couple after 2 1/2 Congresses…

Tom Cole Jim McGovern

We’ll always have Paris…er, H-312. (via YouTube/House Rules Committee)

A rare mid-Congress shakeup has changed the committee counterpart of one of the 413’s congressmen. At the tail end of Tuesday’s Rules Committee meeting, Ranking Member James McGovern, a Worcester Democrat who represents Amherst, Greenfield and Northampton, bid farewell to Chairman Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican. Cole is off to chair the Appropriations Committee after its chair stepped down early.

Rules is arguably the most partisan committee in Congress by nature. It is the vehicle by which the majority controls legislation. Nevertheless, Cole and McGovern, who have each chaired at least once since they become their parties’ top Rules member in late 2018, kept this arm of the majority civil and fair.

“We’re going to miss the smell of cigar smoke on this side of the Capitol building. On second thought, you’re only going to be moving down the hall,” McGovern said to Cole in his remarks. “You are a man of integrity, a man of your word and you work hard to do the right thing even after the gavel comes down and the cameras are shut off.”

Dryly but respectfully, McGovern observed that other than himself, an appointment only voters can effect, he could think of nobody better to be chair. Cole thanked his Democratic colleague for his kind words. While recognizing their differences, Cole said McGovern’s punches were never “below the belt.”

“We’ve walked a long road down this committee,” Cole said noting his and McGovern’s ascent from junior members. “I can’t think of a more worthy adversary, and I can’t think of a better friend.”

Technically, when Cole and McGovern spoke, the former’s move had not been confirmed. That night, the House GOP Steering Committee recommended Cole to Appropriations. Cole’s only potential competitor dropped out Tuesday. The full conference ratified it Wednesday morning.

The Appropriations chair had opened after retiring Texas Representative Kay Granger opted to step down last month. She is not resigning from the House. Earlier on Tuesday night, House Speaker Mike Johnson announced another Texan would succeed Cole on Rules.

Michael Burgess will take the Rules gavel. His reign is only an interregnum until the 118th Congress expires, as he is also not seeking reelection.

Tom Cole

Here’s looking at you, Cole. (via wikipedia)

“I know you and my friend Mr. McGovern will have a great working relationship,” Cole said addressing Burgess.

Although quite conservative, Cole is an institutionalist like McGovern, an avowed liberal. They did oversee bipartisan efforts, including on war powers and Native American issues. (Cole is enrolled with the Chickasaw Nation.)

“You have always conducted yourself in a way that demonstrated [respect for the institution],” he said. “I really hope I don’t get you in trouble for this, but I want to tell you how much I value your friendship and respect your guidance and the example you set around here.”

McGovern also indicated that he will be able to get along with Burgess. Cole’s praise of his successor also implied Burgess was an institutionalist who would treat Rules with care. At a minimum, Burgess is a party man who would prefer Rules work well to avoid procedural embarrassments.

It is hard not to think careless members factored into Cole’s decision to leap to Appropriations. Chairing Appropriations comes with considerable political power, but Rules does, too.

The narrow GOP majority has struggled under both Johnson and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy to pass rules for legislation on the House floor. This discord dates to promises McCarthy made to secure his speakership after 15 votes last year. Far-right members on and off Rules have gummed up process.

This did not break Cole and McGovern’s relationship, however. Nor did it upset the conduct of meetings, judging by the way they spoke about each other.

“It was a serious thing. This committee operated in a serious way,” Cole said.

Cole recognized the majority and minority’s staff, praising top staffers by name. The professionalism they and members displayed made the committee effective, no matter who was in the majority.

“Holding the majority to an account up here is a very worthy exercise,” he said.

In a House with a chaotic majority, an era of good feelings in an otherwise uberpartisan committee had closed. The gavel came down in Cole’s hand one more time, applause broke out and Cole and McGovern embraced.