Do you know what your members of Congress are doing?
Congressman James Comer fist pumps to the crowd during the 143rd Fancy Farm Picnic on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Austin Anthony)
Republicans snubbed Hal Rogers, more than once. They treated Thomas Massie more roughly. Brett Guthrie deferred his dream. James Comer defeated two colleagues in an election to get one of the highest-profile jobs in Congress.
But you don’t read about much or most of the news made by these members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation, unless you subscribe to one of the high-priced newsletters from Washington — or the Almanac of American Politics, which just published its 2024 edition ($130 hardback, $94 paperback, $64 e-book). That’s because no Kentucky news organization has a reporter in Washington whose sole job is covering Kentucky’s delegation.
Enter the latest biannual Almanac, which for decades has been the go-to reference for facts and cogent analysis of politics in this country. Its biographies of Kentucky’s delegation members, and Gov. Andy Beshear, not only remind us of the high and low points in their careers and the nature of their jurisdictions, but bring us up to date on where Kentucky’s six House members fit in the 435-member chamber.
The longest-serving House member is Rogers, of Somerset, who was first elected to represent the 5th District in 1980. His Appalachian bailiwick is one of the poorest in the nation, and he may have done more than any other House member to bring home federal help. But when he hit the three-term limit as chair of the Appropriations Committee, he found himself in less favor with his colleagues.
The Almanac reports that in 2017, Rogers became chair of the appropriations subcommittee that handles the budget of the State Department and other foreign operations: “That was an unusual rebuke of an influential and senior House Republican. As McClatchy News earlier reported, Rogers wanted to chair the defense subcommittee.” When that seat opened up after the 2018 elections, “that gave Rogers a new opportunity. … Instead, Ken Calvert of California took the defense slot,” which he still holds. Now Rogers again oversees the subcommittee on commerce, justice, science and related agencies.
Massie, who was Lewis County judge-executive when he was elected from the 4th District in 2012, has the level of seniority to lead a committee or major subcommittee, but “has been a constant thorn to Republican leaders, who repeatedly bypassed him for chairmanships, and a free-spirit libertarian who often goes his own way,” the Almanac reports. He finally got a chairmanship this year, of the antitrust subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, “though the election was at least as much a rejection of Rep. Ken Buck, the senior Republican in that slot, who many Republicans believed had become too vigorous in his support of antitrust enforcement. They won’t need to worry about Massie.”
Massie’s more important post may be his new seat on the Rules Committee, which he won by backing Kevin McCarthy for speaker, and where he cast a pivotal vote in May to send the bipartisan debt-ceiling package to the House floor, contrary to his budget-hawk history.
An MIT-trained engineer with many patents, Massie chaired the technology subcommittee in his first term, but his iconoclastic, independent approach cost him leadership positions for almost a decade, says the Almanac: “ On two
occasions in 2020, when there was an opening for the top Republican on the Oversight and Reform Committee,
GOP leaders twice bypassed Massie — once to select a junior Kentuckian, James Comer,” first elected in 2016. Comer’s bio notes he “defeated Reps. Jody Hice of Georgia and freshman Mark Green of Tennessee.”
The chairmanship has given Comer, of the far-flung 1st District, the highest profile of any Kentuckian in Washington this year except Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. Comer’s committee is investigating Hunter Biden’s dealings and their possible connections to the president and other family members.
In his speech at the Aug. 5 Fancy Farm Picnic, Comer complained that Kentucky’s four largest newspapers have ignored the probe. But closer scrutiny of Comer would have also shown that he has spent much time on partisan “news” outlets touting such things as an FBI report of an unverified tip saying millions in bribes had gone to the president and his son. And he failed to rein in Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia when she displayed pictures of sex acts involving Hunter Biden at a committee meeting.
Guthrie, first elected from Bowling Green and the 2nd District in 2008, gets a favorable writeup in the Almanac, which reports that he deferred to more senior members when the top Republican spot on the Energy and Commerce Committee opened up in 2020. He recently became chair of its health subcommittee, and “has shown skill in working across the aisle,” the Almanac says. But his constituents, and those of his colleagues, deserve to know more about what they’re doing in Washington. As Louisville’s Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.”
This commentary has been corrected to say that no Kentucky news organization has a reporter in Washington whose sole job is covering Kentucky’s congressional delegation.
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