By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
POINT CLEAR, Ala. – There was no glossing over the obvious during a panel discussion of Alabama’s congressional leaders this weekend: the delegation’s work in Washington will be much different after the retirement of senior Sen. Richard Shelby.
Yet, the changing of the guard may see the balance of influence simply shift to the House, where Alabama’s delegation has been rising in seniority and gaining key positions.
“There’s no question that it will be different without Sen. Shelby, you can’t deny that,” said Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville. “But I look over at my friend Mike Rogers who is about to be chairman of Armed Services, I look at Jerry Carl who is going to join me on Appropriations, I look next to me at Terri Sewell who is on Ways and Means and has a close relationship with the President of the United States — Alabama will still be punching above our weight in Washington.”
Aderholt spoke alongside colleagues Rogers, R-Saks, Sewell, D-Selma, Carl, R-Mobile and Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Birmingham during a panel discussion at the Business Council of Alabama’s governmental affairs conference. Ted Hosp of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama moderated the hour-and a half-long event.
Rogers is poised to become chairman of the House Armed Services Committee if Republicans win the majority in November. But he pointed out that Aderholt left out himself in the list of growing influence as he is poised to lead the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee in a Republican majority, and could be in line to become chairman of the full House Appropriations Committee in two years.
“He’s going to be what’s called a cardinal, leading the CJS subcommittee, but give him a few years and he could be the pope,” Rogers quipped. “Shelby has, and Sessions too before he left, really have been the anchors for the Alabama delegation. Now I think you’ll see the House members step up and take that leadership mantle, so to speak.
“Sen. Tuberville has been really impressive in how he’s stepped into the job. We know Katie Britt knows her way around the Senate and will be off to the races there. But it does take a lot of years to gain the seniority it takes to get things done, especially in the Senate. So let’s give them some time to build up that influence and we in the House can step up to that leadership role,” Rogers said.
Sewell sits on the House Ways and Means Committee and is Chief Deputy Whip in the Democratic Majority. The six-term congressman also stressed her close relationship to President Joe Biden pays dividends for the state.
“Just as it was when President Obama was in office, I try to leverage that relationship to make a positive difference, not just for my district, but on behalf of my Republican colleagues as well,” she said. “It takes teamwork, especially as we see projects span across different administrations. I worked closely with (former Rep.) Martha Roby on bringing the F-35 to Montgomery, Mike Rogers was a key driver behind the Space Force and locating Space Command in Huntsville. But now we’ve had to fight to keep it there, and we’ve all worked some on that, including Sen. Tuberville.
“So I am happy to leverage my relationships in the White House to help my colleagues and help Alabama.”
Palmer is chair of the House Policy Committee, which puts him among the ranks of House leadership. He also sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has broad jurisdiction over healthcare and energy law.
He said time moves fast in Washington and one day he woke up and wasn’t the new guy any more.
“You’re used to seeing Martha Roby there and (former Rep.) Bradley Byrne, and then suddenly, they aren’t there and you’re the more experienced member and expected to step up,” Palmer said. “Being in the leadership does give me and this state a seat at the table for some pretty important discussions and decisions.
“I would say that between all the influential positions that have been talked about already, the House delegation is probably the most powerful it has ever been.”
Carl currently sits on the House Armed Services Committee but is angling for a seat on the House Appropriations Committee, which would give Alabama two appropriators again after Roby retired in 2020. He told conference attendees that the rancor seen in most online and television coverage of Congress isn’t indicative of many lawmakers who want to work on a bipartisan basis.
“You’ve got a handful of what we call bomb throwers on each side and that’s what they do, just inflame the politics and frankly make things difficult for the rest of us,” Carl said. “I was sent up there to get things done and I hope we can do more of that next year.”
Looking ahead to his prospective chairmanship of House Armed Services, Rogers candidly discussed the military’s base realignment and closure process, known as BRAC. The process, usually undertaken every few decades, involves a panel reviewing the military’s current bases to see how they align with modern and future war fighting needs.
The process can make state and local leaders nervous, as losing or seeing a reduction in force at a military base amounts to a major economic problem.
“There’s not going to be a BRAC,” Rogers told the audience, to the sound of applause and at least one “amen.”
“Not just because I’ll be running the committee, but because we can’t afford another one. The last BRAC cost 65% more than the Defense Department predicted it would and we still haven’t recovered those costs. Also, they are so short term in their perspective when it comes to BRAC and what they want to close. Some general might be thinking about their two or three years in command and I’m thinking about the long term.”
The last BRAC took place in the mid 2000s and impacted Alabama military installations in both positive and negative ways.