Politics

Jeff Denham Claims He’ll Be Transportation Chair — But What About Sam Graves?

Both GOP lawmakers want to lead panel; Steering Committee will decide

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., said at an event Friday that he’s going to be the next Transportation Committee chairman, ignoring the other member running to head the Transportation and Infrastructure panel. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

California Rep. Jeff Denham told a local GOP women’s group Friday that he will be the next House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman, ignoring the fact that he is not the only member running for the position, the Republicans are far from a lock to hold their majority and Denham himself faces a potentially competitive race. 

The panel’s current chair, Pennsylvania Rep. Bill Shuster, is retiring. Missouri Rep. Sam Graves and Denham are both running to replace him. The Republican Steering Committee, a panel of 30-some members primarily comprised of GOP leadership and regional representatives, selects committee leaders.

“When I’m re-elected, I will be chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee,” Denham said, breezing past some unpredictable facts in unscripted remarks at the Modesto Republican Women Federated’s annual Ronald Reagan dinner.

Denham was a guest at the event, which was a fundraiser for local charitable causes, and was asked to say a few words, according to one of the group members. Former Utah GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who is now a Fox News contributor, was the keynote speaker.

Watch: Denham Tells Fundraiser Crowd He’ll Get Transportation Panel’s Gavel

The context in which Denham brought up the Transportation chairmanship was in noting Chaffetz’s presence and the fact that the former Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman, who was elected in 2008, obtained his gavel after just three terms.

Denham was elected in 2010 and has served on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for all four terms he’s been in office. 

But Graves, who was elected in 2000, has seniority on the panel, having been a member for all nine of his terms in office. 

Both chair Transportation subcommittees, with Graves heading Highways and Transit and Denham in charge of Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

The Steering Committee weighs various considerations in its deliberations, with seniority often factoring heavily. Fundraising and relationships within the conference also play a role. 

Denham comes from the same state delegation as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who plans to run to be the next GOP leader, and if successful would hold the most votes on the Steering Committee. Leadership elections occur before Steering deliberates to select committee leaders. 

Even if Denham were to get a personal boost from McCarthy, which is not guaranteed, he may struggle to convince some Steering Committee members that he’s a team player. Against leadership’s wishes, Denham led a discharge petition effort earlier this year to try to force a floor vote on a series of immigration bills. 

Whether the race between Graves and Denham will be to chair the Transportation panel or serve as its ranking member will depend on whether Republicans hold on to their House majority in the November midterms. 

Denham, who represents California’s 10th District, is among the incumbents whose seats are considered in play this cycle. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates his race Tilts Republican

Touting his ambitions to chair the Transportation panel was not just brought up in the context of Chaffetz. Denham wanted to note what such a promotion would mean for his constituents. 

“While there are a lot of important issues that come through that committee from highway to rails to airports, our oceans, our Army Corps ... it also builds water storage,” he said in his remarks. “And there’s nothing more critical to our community, to our state that we finally build some water storage here.”

Denham’s Modesto-based district is a big agricultural producer, and water for its crops, and for new homes in the booming area, are big issues. 

Correction: The video embedded in this post incorrectly states the term that Denham is seeking. He’s running for his fifth term, not fourth, in the 2018 midterms. 

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