Un­likely part­ner­ship in House

Demo­crat Nita Lowey, 81, and Re­pub­li­can Kay Granger, 76, give law­mak­ers hope for a bor­der deal

The Mercury News - - News - By Emily Cochrane

WASH­ING­TON >> When it be­came clear that Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., would lead the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, she re­ceived a cher­ry­wood gavel, her name and new ti­tle en­graved in sil­ver.

It was a gift from Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, a long­time com­mit­tee col­league.

“It’s a lady’s gavel,” Granger said last week, her own en­graved red gavel by her side. “Pow­er­ful.”

And when Granger se­cured her po­si­tion as rank­ing mem­ber, Lowey was the first to call to con­grat­u­late her. Be­cause of their com­mit­tee ranks, both women rep­re­sent House party lead­ers on the bi­par­ti­san panel of law­mak­ers ne­go­ti­at­ing a com­pro­mise on bor­der se­cu­rity, and their un­likely part­ner­ship — Lowey, 81, is an ar­dent lib­eral, and Granger, 76, is a fierce con­ser­va­tive — is one rea­son their col­leagues be­lieve they can reach an agree­ment be­fore gov­ern­ment fund­ing lapses again Fri­day.

In­di­vid­u­ally, they have shattered a num­ber of glass ceil­ings in lo­cal pol­i­tics and on Capi­tol Hill. Lowey was the first woman to over­see the cam­paign arm for House Democrats; Granger was the first Re­pub­li­can woman elected to rep­re­sent Texas in the House.

(“I can work things out and I can blow things up,” she told her Re­pub­li­can col­leagues in a pre­sen­ta­tion capped with footage of her blow­ing up an old bridge in Fort Worth.)

Now to­gether, they have bro­ken an­other: It is the first time two women have held the high­est lead­er­ship

po­si­tions on the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, one of the most pres­ti­gious pan­els on Capi­tol Hill. Lowey and Granger will be re­spon­si­ble for lead­ing the ne­go­ti­a­tions to fund the next fis­cal year and reach­ing a twoyear agree­ment to avoid a re­duc­tion in spend­ing lev­els. And they will con­tinue to guide de­bate over fund­ing for bor­der se­cu­rity, es­pe­cially given spec­u­la­tion that a fi­nal deal will in­volve a mul­ti­year com­pro­mise.

Their col­leagues say it is the ul­ti­mate recog­ni­tion of two law­mak­ers who have spent years climb­ing the ranks, of­ten out­side the spot­light, hon­ing their abil­ity at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble and learn­ing how to work

to­gether with col­leagues across the aisle.

“It’s not just, Oh, look, we’ve put two women in,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., the rank­ing mem­ber on the Se­nate Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee. “No, you’ve put two of the ab­so­lute best leg­is­la­tors you could have in Congress on there.”

Both women have cul­ti­vated rep­u­ta­tions as dogged ne­go­tia­tors, mak­ing deals with a gra­cious­ness that might be­lie their tenac­ity.

Lowey pi­o­neered leg­is­la­tion that re­quires food man­u­fac­tur­ers to list the top in­gre­di­ents re­spon­si­ble for al­ler­gic re­ac­tions as well as anti-drunken-driv­ing ini­tia­tives, and Granger

has suc­cess­fully lob­bied for in­creases in mil­i­tary spend­ing and in­vest­ment in the F-35 fighter jet, which is built in her dis­trict.

“If any­one un­der­es­ti­mates their tough­ness,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, RFla., a mem­ber of the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, “they do it at their own peril.”

De­spite their stark ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences, their ap­proach to ne­go­ti­at­ing — an eye for de­tail, a good-na­tured ac­knowl­edg­ment of their de­trac­tors — has be­come co­he­sive, par­tic­u­larly af­ter years of late-night meet­ings and hear­ings.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a long­time ap­pro­pri­a­tor, said both women work “in

the style your mother told you to do.”

“Dis­agree­ing with­out be­ing dis­agree­able,” he said. “It’s what the Amer­i­can peo­ple tell you they want, but sel­dom re­ward.”

The two women have swapped lead­er­ship roles over eight years on the sub­com­mit­tee that deals pri­mar­ily with fund­ing for the State Depart­ment and for­eign op­er­a­tions, bond­ing over trips abroad and grap­pling each year with how to al­lo­cate money. In an in­ter­view, Granger re­called how Lowey, as chair­woman, made a point of not treat­ing her “like a piece of fur­ni­ture” the way rank­ing mem­bers of­ten are — and Granger re­cip­ro­cated when she over­saw the panel.

“We are hon­est with each other,” Lowey said. “You al­ways know where she stands.”

“When she’s the chair, I will lose the bat­tles,” she added with a grin. “When I’m the chair, I win them.”

Granger, a for­mer teacher, “can freeze you with a stare,” Cole said, and Lowey has been known to “tsk tsk” him in the past for what she con­sid­ered an ex­ces­sive smok­ing habit. Yet they are al­ways col­le­gial, he said. Lowey, in par­tic­u­lar be­fore meet­ings, is of­ten quick to of­fer a hug or a pat on the arm to other law­mak­ers.

“In this in­sti­tu­tion, you’ve got a lot of ac­quain­tances, but not a lot of friends,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., a close friend of Lowey’s who de­scribed the re­la­tion­ship between the ap­pro­pri­a­tors as “un­be­liev­ably close.”

Both Lowey and Granger have had op­por­tu­ni­ties to move be­yond the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee: other pan­els, the Se­nate, lead­er­ship po­si­tions with their par­ties. But they say they have found their niche in us­ing spend­ing lev­els to af­fect pol­icy.

“It was con­sis­tent of who I am,” Lowey said. “The job gives you op­por­tu­nity.”

“This is what I want to do,” Granger said, “and I wanted to do it well.”

But side by side in both the con­fer­ence and ap­pro­pri­a­tions pan­els, they hope their dy­namic will fos­ter an en­vi­ron­ment where bills get passed — and more women step for­ward to lead.

“You leave them alone, and they’ll get to a deal faster than lead­er­ship,” Cole said. “There’s noth­ing they haven’t seen.”

ERIN SCHAFF — THE NEW YORK TIMES

From left, Sen. Richard Shelby, Rep. Nita Lowey, Rep. Kay Granger and Sen. Patrick Leahy con­fer last month. Lowey and Granger might be leg­is­la­tors’ best bet to come up with a bi­par­ti­san so­lu­tion in the bor­der cri­sis talks.

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