Once upon a Congress, two cycles ago, Tom Graves of Georgia walked into the fight for the chairmanship of the powerful Appropriations panel firmly believing that he had the support of then-Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Sure, he was a dark-horse candidate, leapfrogging the more senior Kay Granger, but Graves believed that the invisible hand of his big buddy would help him carry the day. After all, he’d raised a ton of money, recruited a half-dozen whips to help him get votes, campaigned for fellow lawmakers and, crucially, enjoyed the backing of McCarthy, who surely appreciated all that legwork. Or so he thought. Alas, none of that seemed to matter as the voting went to the second and then third round. At the time, Politico wrote: “The drama is threatening to become a headache for McCarthy, whose loyalties are being torn between his good friend, Graves, and senior appropriators who say they’ll be furious if he endorses the junior panel member.” Granger won the prized chairmanship on the third ballot.
Graves was furious—furious! So much so, in fact, that despite being a veritable cardinal on an A-level committee, he chose not to run for re-election rather than countenance the indignity. This story has since achieved legendary status on Capitol Hill, of course, because his vacancy in a ruby red district paved the way for none other than Marjorie Taylor Greene. (Graves, now a lobbyist, did not want to comment for this story.)
Chairmanship fights bring out the worst in members for all the obvious reasons. Members campaign hard, raise money for the party, curry favor, and walk away feeling slighted after a loss, or being nixed from leading a subcommittee after challenging the new chair. This sort of tiff inevitably occurs every cycle in one form or another, but McCarthy can’t afford a similar flap in these particularly fraught times. The House Speaker already has about 20 defectors that he must placate and some of his institutionalist backers, who sacrificed to support him during the speakership battle, are feeling snubbed, I’m told. Some say McCarthy offered them assurances that he would support their bids for committee assignments or a chairmanship race and then did not.