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Longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth won’t seek reelection

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Longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth won’t seek reelection

Oct 31, 2023 | 10:44 pm ET
By Patrick Svitek Matthew Choi
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U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, Texas' most senior Republican in the state's congressional delegation, announced Wednesday she will not seek reelection after nearly three decades in Congress.

"Serving my community has been the greatest honor, and I have always fought to improve the lives of my constituents," Granger, of Fort Worth, said in a statement.

Granger, 80, chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee and has represented Texas' 12th Congressional District since 1997.

Granger has had a barrier-breaking career. When she first won her seat in 1996, she became the first Republican woman to go to the U.S. House from Texas, and before that, she was the first female mayor of Fort Worth. Granger's seniority among in the delegation makes her the de facto dean of the state's House Republicans. She puts together a weekly lunch for delegation members where she has pushed for greater Texas representation within her party's leadership.

"I have been able to accomplish more in this life than I could have imagined," Granger said, "and I owe it all to my incredible family, staff, friends, and supporters."

Her retirement will mean the loss of a decades of institutional knowledge and another member of a disappearing breed of defense-focused Republican.

Granger has long been an ardent proponent of a strong national security apparatus, defending the war in Iraq as the “battlefield” of a global war on terror. She has been a steadfast voice in supporting Ukraine in its defense against Russia, and she has pushed for robust Defense Department spending while cutting expenses elsewhere.

The Fort Worth-area within her district includes major defense manufacturing facilities, including a massive Lockheed assembly plant for F-35 fighter jets. Granger has long defended the jets as a worthwhile investment despite their high sticker cost. Granger included funding for 86 new F-35 jets in this year’s defense appropriations bill — three more than the Pentagon requested — despite Republicans making spending cuts one of their top priorities for the year. The appropriations bill still has to get approved by the Senate and signed into law.

Ever since President Donald Trump’s administration, many Republicans have shifted away from hearty defense funding. Under Trump, the Defense Department planned to divert funding, including money for two F-35s, toward building a border wall (Granger avoided criticizing Trump and said protecting the border was a worthwhile cause).

A growing faction of House Republicans have also grown hostile toward continued support for Ukraine. After the White House requested funding for both Ukraine and Israel together, House Speaker Mike Johnson decoupled the requests to push Israel aid, which is far more popular on the right, separately.

House Foreign Affairs Chair Michael McCaul, R-Austin, said he worries about the loss of one of the biggest defense hawks in Congress. McCaul and Granger have been close allies, working in tandem toward projecting strength against threats from Russia, China and Iran. He acknowledged the mood on the right has grown more skeptical toward overseas spending in the face of a ballooning national debt, adding pressure to Granger's job.

"This is not a fun time if you're an appropriator. You're getting attacked because you spend money and so the challenges have been very real," McCaul said. "I'm sure it was exhausting."

Despite her firm hand on defense spending, Granger maintains a conservative eye toward government spending in other areas. She vehemently opposed a massive federal funding bill last year as filled with wasteful spending, despite support from Democrats and Senate Republicans.

She also capped appropriations this cycle at spending levels last seen in the 2022 fiscal year, despite an agreement between House Republican leadership and the Democratic White House to keep spending at current levels. The party’s far-right pushed for the reduced spending levels, and Granger defended the decision by saying the agreement with the White House “set a topline spending cap – a ceiling, not a floor – for Fiscal Year 2024 bills.” But House Democrats viewed the move as a betrayal, and it played a major role in their decision not to vote to keep former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in power when eight far-right members launched a motion to oust him.

Signs of her disagreement with the austerity-driven direction of the party showed during last month’s prolonged fight for a new speaker. Granger joined roughly 20 other Republicans in voting against Rep. Jim Jordan for the job. Jordan has made his mark in Congress trying to remake the conference focused on shrinking the federal government and slashing spending. Jordan’s bid eventually failed, leading to Johnson’s speakership.

With far-right members taking greater control of the Republican conference this year, the Appropriations Committee also started becoming less focused on setting funding levels and increasingly centered on culture issues, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, said. Cuellar is also a long-time member of the committee and is friendly with many Republicans. Cuellar said he and other seasoned members decried the shift in committee work toward hot-button conservative issues such as blocking trans health care in the military.

Cuellar said he could see Granger increasingly uncomfortable with the change.

"We would always say that there are Democrats, there's Republicans, and then you've got appropriators. And I think this year in Appropriations is my first year that I've been around that I saw that it diverted from that," Cuellar said. "I could see her, that that's not the way she would have preferred to have things."

"She's very protective of the appropriations process, as you can see on some of the recent speakers votes," Cuellar said, referring to Granger's vote against Jordan.

Granger didn't give a reason for her retirement in her announcement Wednesday.

Other Democrats rallied to praise Granger as a serious lawmaker, despite their policy differences. Fellow Fort Worth Rep. Marc Veasey, a Democrat, called her a "trailblazer and a fierce advocate for her constituents here in North Texas." House Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, said Granger was a "strong, dedicated public servant, who has been a trailblazer for women across local, state, and federal government."

DeLauro, Granger, Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray and Senate Appropriations ranking member Susan Collins had a strong working relationship and are collectively known as the "four corners."

Granger's departure will also be a hit to the stature of Texas' Republicans — the largest state delegation in the party conference. Texans are underrepresented in House Republican leadership, an issue that Granger has raised with her peers, and her perch atop the Appropriations Committee gave the state a leading voice in the party.

"We achieved the pinnacle getting a chair of the Appropriations Committee," McCaul said. "It's a big loss for the delegation. We've got a very young delegation that's growing up, moving up through the ranks, but we're gonna miss her wisdom and her guidance."

The Texas delegation has become considerably more fractured in the years since Granger joined Congress. But she was always an advocate for members banding together to use their numbers to their advantage, Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, said. Granger urged her fellow Texans to vote together as the party picked its nominee for speaker last month, though the delegation ended up splitting between Jordan and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise.

"We were much more united as a delegation when I first came up here mainly because we knew that our numbers counted," Carter said. "Our new delegation is in some ways more individually driven than by understanding the idea that we've got more votes than anybody else. But they're learning pretty fast."

Granger's district was drawn to favor Republicans and will likely stay in the GOP column. She alluded in her statement to the race to succeed her, saying it is time for the "next generation to step up and take the mantle and be a strong and fierce representative for the people. "

Granger won reelection last year with nearly two-thirds of the vote. In 2020, she faced a well-funded primary challenger from her right, Chris Putnam, but won by 16 percentage points.

At least one Republican, John O'Shea, is already running for her seat next year. O'Shea is endorsed by Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is planning to have a high profile in the March primaries after the Senate acquitted him in his September impeachment trial.

Another potential candidate to succeed Granger is state Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth. His state House district overlaps with the Tarrant County part of the congressional district, and a number of domain names were registered in recent days indicating a Goldman run for Congress.

Goldman released a statement Wednesday focused on Granger's career, saying she "has been a trailblazer in so many respects."

Candidate filing for the primary starts Nov. 11 and goes through Dec. 11.