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Roll Call

In Texas GOP 'Family,' Food Is the Tie That Binds

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Barbeque from restaurants like Capital Q Texas BBQ, 707 H Street NW, is a frequent feature of the Texas delegations lunch menus.

Loving the state you represent is not a unique phenomenon in Congress. But, as Texas Republicans are just dying to tell you, everything is bigger in the Lone Star State. This is Part II of Texas Rising, a continuing series on Texas Republicans. Part I examined the growing clout of the House delegation, the largest in the GOP.

To understand the bonds among Texas representatives, you have to understand Texas. But you also have to understand another thing: lunch.

Every week, Texas House members gather with their colleagues to share a meal and discuss their issues. The Democrats meet on Wednesdays a tradition that apparently dates back to former Speaker Sam Rayburn, D-Texas. But while Democrats supply their own lunch for their meeting, the real fun the real bonding it seems, happens on Thursdays with the Republicans.

Ever since 1985, when the so-called Texas six-pack came to Congress, Texas Republicans have met on Thursday afternoons for a meal that the dean of the delegation, Joe L. Barton, described as one of the highlights of the week.

Barton unofficially leads the Republican lunch, or kinda kicks things off, as Rep. Randy Weber put it. (We pretty much have a roundtable discussion, Weber said.)

Texas is not the only delegation to meet every week. Many do. The entire Nebraska delegation, for instance, meets every Wednesday morning. Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., told CQ Roll Call the Cornhuskers thought it was necessary because theyre a small delegation. And so a large delegation like Texas, if they do it, thats a pretty big deal, Terry said. For us to do it, thats just survival.

Indeed, with the power and size of the Texas delegation, the weekly lunch or weekly Texas banquet, more accurately helps bind members together.

The Republican representatives rotate who buys lunch and they change up where they meet. But this much is constant: They try to make the meal as Texan as possible.

They mostly have barbecue (from Hill Country, naturally, because of its Texas roots), but they also enjoy Mexican, burgers and other selections.

Just dont bring Popeyes chicken. Barton made that mistake once, and he still cant live it down.

Yeah, that was out of line, Rep. Michael McCaul said with a laugh. We had to gavel him down with that one.

Kevin Brady, who called the Popeyes pretty lame, really, offered a slippery slope indictment of Bartons selection from the Louisiana kitchen.

Next thing you know well be eating quiche, Brady said.

Barton, in his defense, said all he knew was there wasnt any Popeyes left at the end of the lunch. Whatever flak I took it wasnt from lack of interest in eating the food, he said.

The razzing seem to be just as much a part of the lunch as the food itself. We sometimes poke fun at each other, I mean it is, after all for lack of a better term a pretty tight fraternity, Weber said, though he noted that the members give a lot of deference to the only female Texas Republican, Kay Granger.

Shes such a classy lady, Weber said.

But that doesnt mean Granger is toning down the caloric value when its her turn to buy lunch.

I dont think anybody, even Kay Granger, provides what would be called truly health food, Barton said.

Notwithstanding Bartons Popeyes, whether its Hill Country or Tortilla Coast or the ribs Louie Gohmert used to make before the Architect of the Capitol shut down his balcony barbecue operation the food is generally steeped in saturated fats. It is, according to Barton, all the stuff youre not supposed to eat.

And members love it. They try to outdo each other in what they provide, like when Steve Stockman went the extra mile by supplying burgers and We, the Pizza just because.

But the real way to outdo your colleagues, members said, was to out-Texas them, hence why Hill Country is such a popular choice.

The Penn Quarter-based barbecue joint takes care to make the dining experience as Texas possible. Beyond the Shiner beer on tap and the Gruene, Texas, neon signs, Hill Country ships in its meat and the Post Oak wood used to smoke that meat from Texas, and ships the chefs out to Texas.

According to McCaul, the member who claims he first brought the Hill Country for lunch, its probably the closest thing we have to Texas barbecue up here, meaning itll do the job, but is still, perhaps, not Texas enough.

If any restaurant can make their process more Texas, theyd probably find a spike in the delivery business on Thursday afternoons.

As Weber put it, seeming to sum up the lunch preferences of many Lone Star Republicans, I like anything thats from Texas.

And to top off the Texas Republicans meal, they have a Texas dessert: Blue Bell ice cream, shipped in from Brenham. I dont know that there are any abstainers in the Blue Bell, Barton said.

Barton first brought the Blue Bell more than 20 years ago, but it wasnt until John Culberson forgot to bring lunch one day as a freshman in 2001 that the Blue Bell became a staple.

My atonement was I would always have Blue Bell ice cream there, Culberson said, who noted that the duty had been passed on to more junior members since.

Blue Bells motto screams Texas: We eat all we can and sell the rest. And if you ask Texas Republican Ted Poe, it ought to be the motto of Americas foreign energy policy. (He recently said as much on the House floor.)

But thats pretty much the most direct line you can draw from the lunch to policy.

Its just more of a social gathering than it is policy or politically oriented, Barton said. But we do talk policy, we do talk politics.

Its just that policy stuff doesnt dudnt, in Bartons east Texas drawl dominate the discussion. When theres a big issue comin up, we do sometimes try to develop a Texas position on it, Barton said. And when individual members have specific problems or projects, we give them the floor to let them discuss it. Stuff like that.

While the lunch may seem light on policy, members pointed to it as an integral part of what it means to be a Texas Republican.

When Brady missed a lunch as a freshman, the senior Texas senator at the time, Phil Gramm, called him up and told him, according to Brady: You know, these arent optional. This is what Texans do.

Brady added: So, from the very first part, it was instilled in me we meet every Thursday, we meet together. So, yeah, I love it. You got a family.

Read the full series at rollcall.com.

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