Tag Archives: Texas congressional delegation

Those were the days

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

A news report about the deep divisions between Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill brought to mind something I learned many years ago about the Texas congressional delegation.

The state’s U.S. House members, divided between Ds and Rs, would meet each week for breakfast. They ate with each other. All of them! They would sit in the congressional dining hall and talk to each other about common ground. They would discuss the state’s myriad problems.

I believe I heard this tale during the era when a Texan, Fort Worth Democrat Jim Wright, was serving as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. I cannot recall at this moment whether Wright instigated the weekly breakfast meetings. All I do remember is that the congressional collegiality among Texans was legendary on Capitol Hill.

A Congressional Quarterly story about the Texas delegation’s weekly meetings compared the relative good cheer among our state’s lawmakers with the open hostility among other states’ delegations. I believe the CQ story compared Texans’ warm feelings with the chill that hung over the California delegation.

Bear in mind something about the Texas congressional delegation in the 1980s. The delegation included some fierce partisans on both sides of the aisle. My congressman was a fellow named Jack Brooks, a Democrat from Beaumont who was a crusty, irascible, profane, cigar-smoking, former Marine who pretty much detested Republicans. He had next to nothing nice to say about his GOP colleagues. I recall him telling me once that he thought President Reagan was dumber than a potted plant.

But he would go to those breakfasts with his colleagues. All of them. Republicans and Democrats.

I don’t know if they’re still meeting these days in that fashion. Nor do I know whether anyone within the Texas congressional delegation has the stature or the commanding presence of Speaker Wright.

Instead, I hear stories these days about House members fearing their colleagues. They actually are frightened by the prospect of working with them, of sitting beside them in the House chamber. They fear someone on the other side of the room is going to shoot them, for God’s sake.

My strong belief is that the current Texas congressional delegation just isn’t wired collectively to exhibit the kind of camaraderie that made its predecessors the envy of Capitol Hill.

Too bad.

Balance of power shifting in Texas delegation

Here’s a thought or two to consider, according to the Texas Tribune.

Texans who have occupied a lot of chairmanships in the U.S. House of Representatives might be set to bail on the House in the wake of the newfound status as the minority party in the lower congressional chamber.

Buried in the Tribune story analyzing that development is a mention of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, a Clarendon Republican, who might “make the upcoming term his last.”

That’s according to “many Republican operatives” on Capitol Hill, reports the Tribune.

Read the story here

Thornberry won’t be able to serve as “ranking minority member” of Armed Services; GOP rules mandate that he is term-limited out of that rank. So he’ll become just one of the gang of GOP members serving on the panel.

I have a special “bond” of sorts with Thornberry. He took office in the House in early January 1995, in the same week I reported for duty as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. I covered his congressional career regularly until I left the paper in August 2012. He and I developed a good professional relationship.

I rarely agree with his voting record while representing the sprawling 13th Congressional District, although my position at the newspaper required me to write editorials supporting him, given the paper’s longstanding conservative editorial policy.

And, to be fair, Thornberry has been pilloried unfairly over his more than two decades in office because of the term limits issue. He was elected in 1994 as part of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” team of GOP insurgents. The CWA called for term limits for members of Congress. Thornberry never pledged to limit his own service to three consecutive terms, but he did vote to approve it when the House considered it.

He took office in 1995. It’s now 2018. Twenty-three years after becoming a freshman member of the House, Mac Thornberry is about to become a former chairman of a key congressional committee. The Republican majority is set to become the GOP minority. That, according to the Texas Tribune, might be enough to send Thornberry packing and returning to the Texas Panhandle in 2021.

Yep, elections do have consequences. We’re about to see one of those consequences occur on the new day that is about to dawn over Capitol Hill.

Bad behavior claims another one

Now it’s Joe Barton who’s bailing out of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Barton is a Republican from Ennis who reportedly sent some nasty pictures of himself over Twitter while he was engaged in a relationship with a “mature, adult woman.” The scorn poured over him. Barton, the senior member of the Texas congressional delegation, hung tough for a little while.

Then he announced his retirement, effective at the end of his current term in 2018.

Barton had to go. His departure should not be a surprise to anyone. The mood across the country has revealed a diminishing tolerance for public officeholders’ lewd behavior. Barton, of course, was careful to explain that the recipient of the hideous pictures was engaged in a consensual relationship with him.

Fine, congressman. Hit the road, will ya?

Barton is just the latest in a long list of Texas lawmakers who are calling it quits. His announcement, to no one’s surprise, contains no mention of the trouble he brought onto himself.

Read more about Barton’s announcement┬áhere.


With the departure of the Texas congressional delegation’s dean, the longest-serving member from Texas is Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, who took office in January 1993.

And, hey, that means the Panhandle’s GOP House member, Mac Thornberry of Clarendon, who was sworn in just two years later, in January 1995, becomes the No. 2-ranked tenured member of the delegation.

I mention that only because Thornberry was elected in that 1994 Republican wave that ran on the Contract With America, a lengthy platform of government reforms that included term limits for members of the U.S. House and Senate. Thornberry has voted for term-limit amendments to the U.S. Constitution whenever they were presented to House members; they just haven’t gotten the votes needed to be referred to state legislatures for ratification.

And, no … he never made a personal pledge to bow out after three terms in the House.

I just thought I would bring it up because it seems oddly relevant.

Non-endorsements pile up for Trump

Here’s what Mac Thornberry, a dedicated “establishment Republican” member of Congress said about whether he plans to “endorse” GOP nominee-to-be Donald J. Trump.

“If you endorse somebody, it’s like a stamp of approval and embracing them,” Thornberry said earlier this month, according to the (Wichita Falls) Times-Record News. “I’m not comfortable doing that with him based on a number of reasons.” A spokesman clarified to the Tribune that Thornberry would not vote for Clinton but has not committed to voting for Trump.

There you have it.

The Republican congressman whose 13th Congressional District stretches from Dalhart in the farthest northwest corner of Texas all the way to the northern Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, isn’t (yet) going to endorse his party’s presidential nominee.

As the Texas Tribune has reported, the GOP delegation from Texas is far less united in its view of Trump than the Democratic delegation is about their party’s presumed presidential nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton.


I am struck by Thornberry’s non-endorsement. It speaks oh, so very loudly to me.

He’s my congressman. I’ve voted for him a few times over the years, depending on the quality of his primary or general election opponents.

He’s generally quite careful and circumspect about political matters when he’s asked to comment publicly.

“Based on a number of reasons,” Thornberry said he is uncomfortable endorsing his party’s presidential nominee. What would they be? Trade policy? Statements that a woman should be punished for getting an abortion? The lengthy string of tasteless insults? His accusing President Bush of deliberate deception in taking us to war in Iraq? Might it be that Trump has no record at all of public service or any commitment to public service through his many business ventures?

You know, it looks for all the world to me as though Mac Thornberry is going to have a hard time even voting for his party’s presidential nominee, let alone endorsing him.

That’s just me talking, of course. Whatever the congressman decides, he’ll act on it in private.

I’ll just add one more point. If Mac Thornberry — who is as loyal a Republican as you’ll find — cannot endorse Trump, then the GOP’s top candidate for 2016 is facing┬áserious trouble down the road.