When Republicans finally captured control of the U.S. House of Representatives last week, Florida’s GOP delegation, with 21 members, emerged as one of the most powerful, naturally formed voting blocs in the upcoming 118th Congress. Only Texas, with 25 Republican members, has a larger delegation. But despite the outsized influence, the Sunshine State remains woefully underrepresented when it comes to powerful leadership posts or prestigious committee chairmanships.
Part of the problem can be explained by a simple lack of seniority in with the Florida delegation. Florida’s longest serving member is Mario Díaz-Balart, first elected in 2002, followed by Gus Bilirakis and Vern Buchanan, both elected in 2006. With only a few exceptions, the rest of Florida’s Republican delegation is comprised mostly of fresh faces elected in 2016 or later.
A second factor is that the sheer size of Florida’s delegation doesn’t immediately translate into an automatic power base for anyone. The House Republican Steering Committee has been a power center in the GOP for years. The panel shapes who sits on each congressional committee and also determines chairmanships. The Steering Committee is comprised of GOP members from specific regions. In the 117th Congress, Florida’s GOP delegation was large enough to qualify for its own member, Buchanan, to land a spot.
This cycle? Florida’s delegation is large enough that the Steering Committee’s regional map has Florida broken up into two regions, essentially guaranteeing Florida will be able to select two members for the Steering Committee. That, in turn, could result in more plum committee assignments for Florida members, but won’t have much influence over some of the more prestigious committee leadership posts.
Florida’s Best Shot: Ways and Means Committee
At the moment, only one Florida delegation member has thrown a hat into the ring for a major House committee leadership post. In April 2021, Florida’s 16th Congressional District Representative Vern Buchanan announced he would run for the post after the ranking Republican, Kevin Brady, announced he would not seek re-election.
Long regarded as the most prestigious committee post in House of Representatives, Ways and Means is responsible for regulating taxation, trade, health care, social programs and other policy areas with revenue impact. Because the House is the sole place that can originate any policy changes on taxation, the chairman of Ways and Means wields enormous power and influence.
Buchanan has competition, though. Two other GOP representatives are also seeking the post: Missouri’s Jason Smith, and Nebraska’s Adrian Smith. Insiders suggest the contest is currently a toss-up between Buchanan and Jason Smith, with Adrian Smith running a distant third. Whether or not Florida’s delegation and other allies can help push Buchanan over the top remains to be seen. If Buchanan falls short, Florida’s seemingly powerful delegation will be relegated to a handful of subcommittee chairmanships and little else.
Messages seeking comment from Buchanan for this story were not returned.
Freedom Caucus and House Speaker Influence
One of the more intriguing storylines currently playing out in Washington D.C. is the very real need for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to secure the votes of at least 218 Republicans in order to become Speaker of the House. As of last week’s vote for majority leader, he received 188 votes, with 31 votes opposed. While that might seem like a large margin that puts him squarely in control of the GOP majority, the problem for McCarthy is that it’s not enough to become Speaker of the House if Democrats are united behind someone like, say, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.
There’s no chance any Republicans will allow that to happen, so McCarthy will obviously secure the votes he needs. The question is, at what price will he secure them? And will any Florida representatives be part of that grand bargain?
The opposition to McCarthy came from the House Freedom Caucus (HFC). And with the vote looming on January 3rd, 2023, McCarthy has some work to do in order to court and win the support of most of those 31 opposition votes in order to ensure the GOP holds the speakership. And that’s where a handful of Florida Republicans could end up having some influence. There are currently four Florida representatives who are members of HFC: Matt Gaetz, Bill Posey, Greg Steube, and Byron Donalds.
But with a handful of new GOP faces also elected to House this cycle, at least two of those new faces are already aligned with HRC: Anna Paulina Luna, and Cory Mills. More could join.
One way for McCarthy to dilute HRC influence is by expanding the GOP majority. With the outcome of several House races still undetermined, House insiders tell The Capitolist that GOP leadership in Congress expects to eventually win somewhere around 225 or 226 seats. Those additional GOP members, most of them from McCarthy’s home state of California, will likely make the math easier for him. But some help from the House Freedom Caucus will still be needed, and that means McCarthy and his most loyal lieutenants will need to do some horse trading in order to secure the votes.
Florida’s Own Self Interest
Regardless of how things shake out between now and January 3rd, every member of the GOP delegation understands the importance of representing their home state amid a sea of 435 representatives across the country. One way all of Florida’s Republican members work together is through constant dialogue and regular meetings.
“We regularly eat lunch or dinner together when the House is in session,” emails Congresswoman Kat Cammack (FL-3). “Likewise, our chiefs of staff and teams get together often, too. While we may not agree on every issue or policy, or even which football team is the best (Go Gators!), we’re united in our efforts to keep Florida free and make it the best place to live, work, and raise a family.”
Calling Florida’s GOP delegation a “tight-knit crew,” Cammack says the delegation works close together on everything from letters to legislation.
With the GOP firmly in control over the House of Representatives, but Democrats controlling the Senate and White House, Florida’s Republican delegation could have outsized influence over several major policy areas in the coming two years.