For the first time in more than a century, Virginia will not have a member of Congress on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, a blow that leaves the state without a representative looking out for its spending priorities.
Five of the 11-member delegation are newly elected, the biggest turnover in decades. But that leaves them without the kind of seniority that helps secure seats on coveted committees.
According to records on the committee’s website, the last time the appropriations panel was without someone from the Old Dominion was 1915, when Woodrow Wilson was president and a quart of milk cost 9 cents.
Virginia appropriators from the more recent past used their clout to arrange funding for Metro, bridge and highway improvements, defense projects, anti-gang initiatives, and even the Iraq Study Group.
But the retirements of senior members such as Republicans Bob Goodlatte and Frank Wolf and Democrat Jim Moran and the state’s shifting demographics made room for new faces in the delegation.
That’s the trade-off, said Steve Stombres, who was chief of staff to Eric Cantor during Cantor’s tenure as House majority leader and is now a consultant.
With turnover “comes fresh energy and new perspective and people who are very connected with their constituents and that’s the positive side,” he said, “but the down side is you lose seniority and the ability of members to look out for the needs of the commonwealth.”
Aside from Appropriations, Virginia’s established members in the Democratic majority will move up the ranks on high-profile committees.
●Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, the longest-serving member of the delegation from either party, is chairman of the Education Committee.
●Rep. Gerald E. Connolly expects to be named chairman of a subcommittee within the Oversight Committee, which will interview President Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, next month.
●Rep. Don Beyer will be seated on the Ways and Means Committee, ending Virginia’s more than 20-year drought. The panel sets tax policy and will play a role in any infrastructure bill that materializes.
●Rep. Donald A. McEachin, who is interested in environmental justice, will sit on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Committee assignments for the five freshmen have not yet been determined.
Of the Democrats, Rep. Jennifer Wexton of Loudoun County has said she would like to serve on the Transportation or Science committees. Her predecessor, Republican Barbara Comstock, served on both.
Rep. Elaine Luria, a former naval commander, is shooting for Armed Services or Veterans’ Affairs committees, and Rep. Abigail Spanberger tried for the Agriculture or Intelligence committees.
Republican freshman Rep. Ben Cline wants Transportation or Agriculture while Rep. Denver Riggleman said his top pick is Financial Services.
The horse-trading and cajoling to land a committee assignment starts right after the election, aides said.
Members write letters and try to persuade leadership and members of a steering and policy committee and people close to them using political considerations, relationships, historical precedent, district geography and whatever else they can think of.
In 2017, with the GOP in charge of the House, Scott W. Taylor, a former Navy SEAL elected from Virginia Beach, did the near-impossible, winning a seat on the Appropriations Committee as a Republican freshman after a series of meetings on Capitol Hill, personal letters and a two-page flier extolling his virtues.
He argued that his district, with proximity to eight major military installations, including the largest naval base in the world, relied heavily on federal appropriations.
Taylor got his wish, but lost to Luria in November.
This year, Democrats considered Virginia part of the Mid-Atlantic region with the District, Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland, which meant Wexton had to compete with more seasoned members from states with more Democratic members.
In the end, the three-term Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) was nominated for the Appropriations slot.
“Do you think somebody from New Jersey is going to represent the interests of Virginia?” said Wolf, a former congressman who represented northern Virginia for more than three decades and sat on Appropriations for most of that time.
He used the committee to fund the Baker-Hamilton Commission to study the war in Iraq and secure money to combat the transnational gang MS-13, among other priorities.
“One of advantages of Appropriations is I can pick up the paper in the morning, go in and do something about it,” he said. As a subcommittee chairman, he said, “you can get the cabinet secretary on the phone and say, ‘We got to move on this.’ ”
Despite their different party affiliations, Wolf worked closely with Moran, who also served on Appropriations during the course of his 23 years representing Northern Virginia in Congress.
Moran, who left Congress in 2014, ticked off a partial list of projects funded through now-banned earmarks through Appropriations: the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, the Springfield traffic interchange, planning for rapid transit connecting Arlington and Alexandria, Four Mile Run, and extension of Metro to Dulles.
But losing the seat on the committee doesn’t spell disaster.
“We have such a robust economy,” he said, “we’re fine, particularly with Amazon coming in. Don’t cry for me Argentina.”