Alabama’s freshman lawmakers in Washington are stepping into committee roles — and, in one case, into a brand new committee — as most of the state’s veteran lawmakers continue life in the minority party or experience it for the first time in years.
On the Senate side, Republican Sen. Richard C. Shelby has moved from chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee to vice chairman, with Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont assuming the chair.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, Alabama’s new senator, who has moved into office with a high and controversial profile, has secured spots on the Armed Services; Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; and Veteran’s Affairs committees.
“Alabama is home to many important installations, including Maxwell Air Force Base, Ft. Rucker, Redstone Arsenal, Anniston Army Depot, and Dannelly Field … additionally, the Port of Mobile is central to our maritime defense and shipbuilding industry, and Huntsville, where Space Command will soon call home, leads the nation in the development of aerospace defense through surveillance and rocket programs,” the freshman Republican and former Auburn football coach said in comments on his website.
“It’s always better to be in the majority,” said Dr. Regina Wagner, associate professor of political science at the University of Alabama. “I think this time, we’re seeing it already now shaping up to be kind of a bad time for bipartisanship.”
Shelby, due to his political longevity and the slim Democratic margin of control in the Senate, probably won’t see his clout reduced much, Wagner said.
“You always have a little more leeway in the Senate. They can’t do everything through reconciliation [a budget process requiring only a majority vote], so there are going to be things where you can exert concessions on, which you can’t really do in the House.”
The entire delegation is expected to fight to maintain plans to move the headquarters of the new U.S. Space Command in Huntsville in a few years. It currently resides in Colorado, and that delegation — which includes four Democrats and three Republicans on the House side and two Democratic senators — has vowed to keep it.
Wagner said she expects the move to Alabama to take place, but if it’s blocked, it’s an ominous sign for the state’s clout.
On the House side, most members continue in the minority role on their committees, with one big exception.
Rep. Terri Sewell, the lone Democrat among Alabama’s seven House members, sits on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, chairs the Defense Intelligence and Warfighter Support subcommittee and sits on the Intelligence Modernization and Readiness subcommittee. She is also a member of the Ways and Means Committee.
“This must be really fascinating for her,” Wagner said, to be “the one person in the delegation on the inside.”
Having Sewell on the inside could mean that other members of the delegation would need to ask for her help in getting some priorities through, which could be difficult for some of them.
Alone among the delegation, Sewell voted for the article of impeachment against former President Donald Trump, and for the resolution calling on Vice President Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove the former president. She also called out colleagues Reps. Mo Brooks and Barry Moore for their statements alleging election fraud.
GOP House members wouldn’t necessarily want to be seen asking Sewell for help, Wagner said, and given her public stance, “if you’re a Mo Brooks, that’s going to be a problem for you.”
Sewell, of Birmingham, did join the rest of the delegation in voting to approve a waiver for retired Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, an Alabama native, to serve as secretary of defense.
Rep. Robert Aderholt of Haleyville, currently the state’s longest-serving House member, remains ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee’s Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies subcommittee, and a member of the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies panel.
Rep. Mike Rogers of Saks, in Alabama’s 3rd District, is ranking Republican on the House Committee on Homeland Security and a
senior Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, with Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state continuing as chairman.
On Feb. 3, Smith announced the creation of two new subcommittees under Armed Services, including the Subcommittee on Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems, or CITI.
Joining that panel is Brooks, of Huntsville, who has been denounced by some House Democratic colleagues for his fiery speech ahead of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. Brooks denounced the violence but has been an unabashed supporter of Trump.
The subcommittee will have a wide range of jurisdiction, including cyber security, operations and forces; information technology; defense-wide research and development, excluding missile defense and space; artificial intelligence policy and programs; electronic warfare policy; computer software acquisition policy, and more.
Brooks is also a member of the Strategic Forces subcommittee, where he sits alongside House Republican Caucus Chair Liz Cheney, who recently drew the ire of some of her own party for voting to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 riot.
Alabama’s two House freshmen have picked up committee assignments in line with their districts.
Rep. Jerry Carl, of Mobile, also has been named to the House Armed Services Committee, on the Seapower & Projection Forces and Military Personnel subcommittees. He has also been named to the House Natural Resources Committee.
“I’m excited to serve on the House Natural Resources Committee, which plays a critical role in overseeing offshore energy production, protecting and expanding land for recreational hunting and fishing, managing and sustaining our oceans and fisheries, and overseeing tribal lands,” Carl said in a press release. “South Alabama has one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to protect these resources and activities we hold dear in the First District.”
Moore, of Enterprise, has been named to the Agriculture Committee and Committee on Veteran’s Affairs.
“Growing up on a farm, I not only learned the value of hard work but the great sacrifices our farmers make to put food on our tables and clothes on our backs,” Moore said. “Agriculture plays a critical role in Alabama, and I’m looking forward to serving as a voice for our agricultural producers on the House Agriculture Committee.”
He also said that as a veteran, “I understand the severity of ensuring that every American who served this great country in our military receives the crucial benefits and services they deserve.” Moore served in the Alabama National Guard for six years.
Rep. Gary Palmer, of Hoover, has been named to the Energy and Commerce Committee, which he notes marks the first time an Alabama representative has served on the panel in more than three decades.
“Our state excels in energy production and scientific and healthcare research that all justify representation on this committee,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in these areas and more, and to bringing Alabama’s unique strengths to the Energy and Commerce Committee.”
Palmer previously was a member of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.
Brett Davis is a journalist who lives in Washington, DC. He is a former Washington correspondent for The Huntsville Times.