Campaigns

Texas Rep. Kay Granger grabs spotlight with tough primary ahead

Granger led effort condemning Pelosi for ripping up Trump's State of the Union text

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, is facing a competitive primary. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision to rip up President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on live television enraged House Republicans. But it was Rep. Kay Granger, who once said Trump doesn’t deserve to be in the same room as war veterans, who led the effort to defend the president.

The Texas Republican introduced the resolution condemning Pelosi on Wednesday after talking with Minority Whip Steve Scalise about how “appalled they were by the Speaker’s actions,” according to a person familiar with their thinking who was not authorized to speak publicly.

The Democratic-controlled House rejected the measure on Thursday. But the move put Granger, a powerful lawmaker who prefers to operate behind the scenes, in the political spotlight.

“I thought that it was disparaging — particularly to those heroes that the president talked about. And to rip up the speech is also ripping up their careers,” Granger told reporters Thursday.

Granger sharply criticized Trump during the 2016 campaign, but she has since supported the president. Perhaps most importantly, she has earned Trump’s endorsement in her bid for a 13th term, which she and her allies are highlighting as she faces a competitive primary in Texas’ 12th District.

Granger’s leading role on Thursday’s resolution could help her among Republican primary voters who will be deciding her fate on March 3, when she faces former Colleyville City Councilmember Chris Putnam, who is backed by the conservative Club for Growth.

“To the extent that you are leading a charge against Nancy Pelosi, you are hitting a very important point that Republicans want to hear,” said one Texas GOP operative who is not involved in the primary.

The Trump factor

Granger’s resolution underscores how loyalty to the president is a critical factor in GOP primaries in the Trump era. Putnam has criticized Granger for not sufficiently supporting the president’s priorities, including fully funding a wall along the southern border.

Trump, who carried the 12th District near Fort Worth by 30 points in 2016, endorsed Granger back in December, tweeting that Granger “has worked hard for Texas and been a strong supporter of our #MAGA Agenda.”

But that hasn’t stopped Putnam and his allies from pointing out that Granger called on Trump to step aside as the nominee in 2016. Granger was one of several Republicans who did so after an Access Hollywood tape surfaced on which Trump described sexual assaults on women.

Putnam’s campaign manager, Karin Dyer, cast Granger’s support for Trump as politically motivated.

“Now that she is facing defeat at the ballot box, she is trying to save herself, but it is too little too late,” Dyer wrote in an email.

Putnam’s initially strong fundraising, and his willingness to loan his campaign $250,000, raised questions about whether Granger could be in trouble. Dyer wrote that Putnam “will spend whatever it takes to win.”

Granger, though, stepped up her efforts in the fourth fundraising quarter of 2019, raising $419,000 to Putnam’s $80,000. And she had a cash-on-hand advantage, with $773,000 in the bank to Putnam's $407,000.

Last month, the Club for Growth decided to back Putnam and pledged to spend against Granger, the first time since 2016 the Club has taken on a House Republican incumbent.

 

Politico reported that the Club planned to launch a “seven-figure” campaign against Granger. Republican operatives noted it would likely take multiple millions of dollars to move a primary electorate in the expensive Dallas media market.

Club for Growth Action has spent $120,000 so far on the race, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures. The club is also closely coordinating with Protect Freedom PAC, which has spent nearly $547,000 against Granger.

The onslaught of ads attacking Granger prompted other GOP groups to defend her, mainly by highlighting Trump’s endorsement.

The Congressional Leadership Fund has launched radio and TV ads, so far spending $98,000 of what is expected to be a $300,000 effort. And Winning for Women, a group that supports Republican women, launched a mail campaign this week. The group is not announcing how much it is spending on the effort, but said the mailer would reach more than 25,000 households.

The outside group involvement is a sign the primary race could be competitive. GOP strategists watching the race still expect Granger to prevail, but said she is taking the race seriously.

“She’s an institution in Fort Worth,” said Texas GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak. Before she became the first Texas Republican woman elected to Congress in 1996, Granger was the mayor of Forth Worth and served on its city council.

And, Mackowiak noted, Trump’s endorsement is critical in the primary race.

“That takes a lot of the wind out of a sails of a challenge from the right,” Mackowiak said.

But the Club for Growth is still attacking Granger on her 2016 comments, launching a radio ad this week that mimicked an answering machine in Granger’s office.

“If you’re a reporter and would like Granger to trash talk President Trump, like she did when Trump was running against Hillary Clinton, press four,” the ad’s narrator says.

The Club’s main message though, is that Granger — the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee — is not sufficiently conservative because of her record of approving government spending.  The group’s president, David McIntosh, suggested in a statement Thursday that with her resolution condemning Pelosi, Granger “is trying to have it both ways.”

“If Granger had torn up Pelosi’s budgets instead of blindly supporting them, Texas conservatives would not be outraged with her record on spending,” McIntosh said.

Spending in the spotlight

Of course, the reality appropriators face is a bit more complicated.

Granger had a bit of a rocky start after taking over as the top Republican on the committee last year.

The minority party in the House has little influence on the first draft of the annual spending bills and Granger ended up speaking out against much of the legislation, citing concerns over spending levels and Democrats’ policy language.

Her role changed later in the year, when the House and Senate began negotiating final versions of the dozen annual spending bills. As one of the “four corners” of the powerful appropriations committees, Granger was part of the closed-door meetings where final agreements on military spending and border wall construction funds were made.

Those decisions must get the support of both political parties and Trump — meaning that Granger and her Republican counterpart in the Senate cut deals with Democrats to make sure the government did not shut down.

Her opponents’ attacks on Granger elicited skepticism from her fellow appropriators.

“If your state has the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, why are you trying to take her out? That, to me, is just stupid,” said Idaho GOP Rep. Mike Simpson, who is the top Republican on the Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee.

Oklahoma GOP Rep. Tom Cole noted criticism of Granger’s work on the committee is unfounded because the Trump administration signed off on those spending deals.

“The toughest votes she cast have been on appropriations bills on things the president wanted, after he cut a budget deal,” said Cole, ranking member on the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee. “So to be attacked for voting for what you were asked to vote for by the president, because you're not supporting the president, is just ridiculous.”

Cole, a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told CQ Roll Call that House Republican leadership is focused on Granger's campaign and making sure that she has all the funding she needs.

“Kay, frankly, has been extraordinarily generous to the NRCC, so her campaign account was probably lower than it normally would be. So quite a few of us have gone to bat and put additional resources there,” Cole said.

Cole didn't know of any plans for Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, or members of leadership to campaign in the district ahead of the primary. But he said if she made that request they'd be likely to agree.

"Sometimes if you're being attacked by an outsider, the last thing you want to do is bring a bunch of insiders there to help. But again, I think she's going to get all of the help she needs out of the Texas delegation, which is very mobilized to support her," Cole said.

Should Putnam oust Granger on March 3, that would cut the number of GOP women on the Appropriations Committee in half, leaving only Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who is facing a challenging general reelection campaign.

Granger’s defeat would also be a blow to the Texas delegation, which is already losing some of its senior members who have decided to retire. She has built a reputation as someone Texans can count on to help secure funding for critical projects back home.

“She is absolutely a go-to for the Texas congressional delegation,” said one Texas GOP operative. “It would be a big loss.”

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