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Cole clinches Steering endorsement for Appropriations chair

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The Republican Steering Committee unanimously endorsed Rep. Tom Cole late Tuesday to chair the House Appropriations Committee, ahead of a final vote expected Wednesday from the full House Republican Conference.

Cole is running unopposed for the top Appropriations post and easily won backing from the Steering panel, which tends to favor more establishment candidates for leadership positions. The Oklahoma Republican, who would be the first from his state to serve as chair of the panel, is set to succeed Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), who announced late last month that she would give up the gavel early, before retiring from Congress next year.

Walking into the closed-door selection meeting Tuesday evening, Cole said being chair has been his “longtime goal.”

“It’s an enormous opportunity. Great challenge. Dream come true,” he added.

Cole currently serves as chair of the Rules Committee, vice chair of the Appropriations Committee and leader of the Transportation-HUD funding subcommittee. Securing the endorsement of nearly every other senior Republican appropriator, his installation at the top of the committee has been long anticipated.

An ally to leadership, Cole has helped negotiate bipartisan funding deals necessary to thwart government shutdowns, which have increasingly fueled rancor over spending within the GOP conference.

Bipartisan support: Many Democrats have praised Cole for his collegial style and track record of working across the aisle on annual spending bills.

“Tom is one of the most respected people on the committee in both parties,” Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democratic appropriator, said in an interview last week. “In the past I’ve seen nothing but professionalism, despite his, you know, strong conservative voice. But he respects the institution. And these days, that alone is worth celebration.”

Cole also has experience leading the Labor-HHS-Education and Legislative Branch subcommittees, in addition serving a long tenure on the Defense spending panel.

Reform push: Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), the House’s most senior GOP appropriator besides Granger, entertained a challenge to Cole but didn’t enter the race. Aligning himself with conservatives, Aderholt still positioned himself as an alternative to the Oklahoma Republican, proposing reforms aimed at assuaging GOP members who have become increasingly fed up with an appropriations process viewed as wasteful and closed off to rank-and-file members.

“There’s a lot of members of Congress, rank and file members, that really just don’t trust the appropriations process,” Aderholt said in an interview Tuesday.

The Alabama Republican leads the Labor-HHS-Education spending subcommittee and voted against his own funding bill last month in protest of earmarks Senate Democrats inserted. Now he wants to usher in a change that would require all four subcommittee chairs, across both chambers, to sign off on any earmarks in order for those funds to make it to the president’s desk, among other changes.

“I’m just hoping I can work with him and try to make some of these common sense changes,” Aderholt said of Cole.

Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.