With the midterm elections less than a month away, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will begin next year with a new leader.
After six years as head of the transportation panel, Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) announced he would not seek re-election. Shuster is term-limited as chairman. Already, two Republican subcommittee chairmen expressed interest in succeeding the outgoing chairman.
But, before they figure out who the next chairman of the committee will be, Republicans must first retain control of the chamber. House Democrats are running on a backlash against President Donald Trump, and need to flip 23 Republican-held seats to return to power.
Next year, the Trump White House is likely to press the committee to craft an infrastructure bill. With Shuster gone, however, the committee’s structure will be different. A look at subcommittee chairmen in closely watched contests would help paint a picture of just how different that could be.
For instance, Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.), chairman of the Coast Guard and Maritime Subcommittee, is facing off against Democrat Lauren Baer to represent the 18th District along southeast Florida. Mast, elected in 2016 with 53% of the vote, took over the subpanel with jurisdiction over water security policy after Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) was stripped of the role amid federal charges related to misuse of campaign funds. Mast, an Army veteran, is not equipped with a long legislative record on infrastructure and freight transportation. At a hearing in February, he raised concerns about passenger railroad safety. Democratic challenger Baer indicated online that she would demand investments in infrastructure if elected. The contest is a close call with the Cook Political Report listing it as “likely Republican.”
Rep. Lou Barletta is running for the Senate in Pennsylvania. (C-SPAN)
Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), chairman of the Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee, is looking for a job change on the other side of the U.S. Capitol. The four-term congressman aims to knock off Sen. Bob Casey (D) to represent Pennsylvania in the upper chamber. After his early endorsement of then-candidate Trump, the commander in chief reciprocated recently by speaking favorably of the representative from the 11th District. In Congress, Barletta has championed resilience in infrastructure as well as reforms to safety scoring systems for commercial vehicles. Casey has been a reliable Democratic vote since he was elected in 2006. With a seat on the Finance Committee, Casey also will have a strong voice on any upcoming deliberations about the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund. The fund’s authority expires in 2020. The Cook Political Report has classified the contest as “likely Democrat.”
Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), chairman of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee and a top candidate to succeed Shuster if Republicans hold the chamber, is up against Democrat Henry Martin and Libertarian Dan Hogan. Graves has solidified the Republican backing in the Show Me State’s 6th District. He was elected in 2000 and garnered 68% of the vote in 2016. He is expected to emulate that showing in the upcoming contest, analysts note. With experience in transportation affairs and deep institutional knowledge about the workings of Washington, Graves is considered a key player in ensuring the long-term viability of the Highway Trust Fund. He has pressed colleagues on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee to address concerns about the federal trust fund account backed by revenue from fuel taxes and used to assist states with infrastructure projects.
Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) is likely to keep his seat. (Association of Equipment Manufacturers)
Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), chairman of the Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee, is facing an uphill battle in his re-election bid. Like Barletta, Denham was elected in 2010 during the tea party wave. He has been the chamber’s leader on a measure pertaining to truckers that would ensure nationwide uniformity on meal-and-rest-break rules. However, Denham has been unsuccessful in leading that provision to the president’s desk for enactment. Denham also is asking his caucus to select him for the Transportation chairmanship if Republicans remain in control after the midterms. Political observers note that California’s evolving attitudes toward Congress and the Trump administration’s immigration policy have helped energize Democratic challenger Josh Harder. The Cook Political Report has classified the contest for control of the Golden State’s 10th District as a “Republican tossup.”
Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), chairman of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, was first elected in 2014 and is in solid Republican territory. He is expected to fend off challenges from Democrats and an independent. Graves has pressed colleagues on port safety and freight transportation efficiency. In an exchange with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in March, the incumbent emphasized the infrastructure and traffic congestion concerns in rural districts. An infrastructure plan from the Trump White House unveiled in February proposed carving out certain funds for rural projects.