WASHINGTON — In her first hearing at the helm of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers signaled she intends to elevate Eastern Washington and craft bipartisan legislation as the first woman to lead the influential panel in its 227-year history.
Before a hearing on energy policy that highlighted the differences between the parties, the Spokane Republican gifted a coffee mug to each member of the committee and encouraged them to get to know each other — whether or not they want to.
“I want you to think about somebody across the aisle that you would like to get to know — or maybe the person that you thought, ‘I really don’t want to get to know that person’ — and I’m going to challenge you to go grab a cup of coffee,” McMorris Rodgers said. “We all know life is about relationships, and the work that we do on this committee will be enhanced as we reach across the aisle, as we sit down and get to know each other and grab a cup of coffee.”
In a symbolic move, McMorris Rodgers renamed three committee meeting rooms after Riverfront Park, the Palouse and her hometown of Kettle Falls.
During the hearing, Republicans blamed President Joe Biden and his allies in Congress for investing in renewable energy at the expense of oil, gas, coal and nuclear power. Democrats pointed out oil and gas prices rose mainly because of supply and demand disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Energy and Commerce Committee’s broad jurisdiction includes health care, interstate business, regulating tech companies and more. At a time when the new GOP House majority seems more interested in using their committees to investigate the Biden administration than to pass bills that have a chance of becoming law, McMorris Rodgers signaled she may be more willing to craft substantive legislation.
“Millions of Americans are depending on us to tackle today’s greatest challenges so they have the opportunity for a brighter future, like families who struggle to afford their gas, grocery, doctor’s and electricity bills,” she said, pledging to honor the committee’s “rich history of plowing the hard ground to legislate, deliver results and help make people’s lives better.”
Some Democrats on the committee expressed support for that attitude.
“We have to stop retreating to our corners and seeing everything as a zero-sum game for whatever side,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.
The 118th Congress marked another important milestone for female lawmakers. For the first time, all four leaders of the House and Senate panels that control federal spending are women.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, where Sen. Susan Collins of Alaska is the top Republican. In the House, Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, leads the Appropriations Committee, while Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut is the top Democrat.