Granger Emerges as Power Broker in Foreign Policy
By Maria Recio
WASHINGTON — The two powerful women sat across from each other in the ornate, gold-curtained congressional hearing room: U.S. Rep. Kay Granger was at the center of the dais and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in the witness seat as the Fort Worth Republican grilled her on world affairs.
From Egypt and Iran to China and Japan, Granger has emerged as a power broker in Congress on foreign policy as she finishes her first year as chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs.
Since the Republican Party regained control of the House in 2011, whenever Clinton and other heavyweights in Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration face funding issues, they go to Granger to try to win congressional backing.
That’s why Clinton appeared before Granger this month. The subcommittee sets funding for the State Department and foreign aid, a role that gives the former Fort Worth mayor major influence over the expenditure of more than $53 billion for the next fiscal year.
Granger met Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — with whom she is on a first-name basis — as part of a select group of House members, including Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for a private Capitol Hill luncheon to learn about the rising Iranian nuclear threat.
And a few days earlier, Granger had played a crucial behind-the-scenes role in a diplomatic coup for the U.S. — the release of U.S. citizens with pro-democracy groups who had been detained in Egypt.
One year after becoming a “cardinal,” as the leaders of the 12 appropriations subcommittees are known, the eight-term congresswoman is nonetheless modest about becoming a player on the world stage.
“It’s really something that happened” over time, said Granger, 69, in an interview. “I always set out to be on Defense” on the Appropriations Committee because of the military-related companies in Tarrant County, including Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. and Bell Helicopter Textron.
“I never saw it taking me into this international role,” she said. Since joining the subcommittee in 2009, Granger has been to 17 countries, making multiple visits to places including Israel, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates.
Besides being chairwoman of her subcommittee, Granger serves on the panel’s Defense Subcommittee, as well as one that focuses on the Labor Department and other domestic agencies.
But she has certainly proved to be comfortable in the role of foreign-funding gatekeeper.
She spoke easily at the hearing with the formidable Clinton, a former first lady and senator, who explained her agency’s budget and the reasons for U.S. policy in hot spots around the world, announcing a deal in which North Korea agreed to suspend nuclear testing in exchange for food.
Granger questioned Clinton about the U.S. citizens who were being forced to stay in Egypt. The secretary hinted that they would soon be released.
International Republican Institute President Lorne Craner said Granger, as well as Clinton, should get credit for that.
Granger “has built relationships over the years and as good a friend as she is of Egypt, she was able to get across to them that this was making it very difficult, that any money for Egypt was under threat,” said Craner, who had five employees released, including Sam LaHood, the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “She played a very important role here.”
Granger’s tenacity was on display during the more than two-hour exchange between Clinton and the nearly dozen lawmakers on the panel. Granger controlled the panel — and the gavel — showing, along with Clinton, a deep knowledge of and familiarity with the issues.
And Clinton deferred to Granger, the keeper of the purse.
Granger has come a long way from east Fort Worth, where the former teacher and insurance business owner got her political start.
Granger, the mayor from 1991 to 1995, always had an interest in international relations, and her new job gives her all she could hope for.
Over the past year, Granger has had personal contact with many world figures, from Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to the rock star Bono, who has made humanitarian aid to Africa a personal crusade.
In January, Granger and other lawmakers joined Bono in Ghana for the opening of a school that his One Campaign had promoted.
Granger arranged for Bono to meet lawmakers in June on Capitol Hill, and the U2 frontman, who referred to the lawmaker as “Kay,” told the Star-Telegram, “She’s a very elegant woman” who dishes out a lot of “tough love.”
“We have to prove to her that these programs are saving lives,” Bono said.
Granger said she challenges advocates of aid, as well as herself, to answer basic questions about the justification for foreign spending: “What do we get for it? Is it in our national security interests? What is a measure of success?
“We have put enormous restrictions on foreign assistance, program by program,” she said.
At the Clinton hearing this month, Granger said: “Our constituents demand that our foreign aid is aligned with our national security interests and American values.
“For that reason, the fiscal year 2012 appropriations bill contained conditions on funding to many countries so that we would have time to see how events on the ground unfold before funds are disbursed.”
That common-sense approach to the U.S. role on the international stage has won Granger a following — especially in the Middle East, where she has made numerous trips and developed extensive contacts.
“It is a pleasure working with my friend Kay Granger because she understands the importance of diplomacy and development to our national security,” said Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee.
“I think it is not a coincidence that the only committee in Congress led by two women is among the most productive and collegial.”
Lowey was chairwoman when the Democrats were in power, and Granger was the ranking Republican. They traveled as part of a 2009 congressional delegation to Israel and Egypt and took a Latin American trip to Peru, Mexico and Colombia.
American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Norm Ornstein said that Granger is “an internationalist” and that her position as an appropriations leader is significant.
“She doesn’t use it on her own for ideological crusades,” he said. “She’s serious about policymaking.”
Pete Geren, a former Democratic congressman who preceded Granger in the 12th District seat before retiring in 1996, said being a “cardinal” means the congresswoman is a major player beyond just Capitol Hill.
“She is a significant international player, the most senior person in the House dealing with the foreign aid budget,” said Geren, who was Army secretary under President George W. Bush.
“I think she’s got great leadership skills for that kind of position,” he said.
“The members of her subcommittee are international figures and she’s the chair. World leaders look to that subcommittee. It makes her an influential figure internationally. I don’t think people in the U.S. appreciate the reach of that committee,” said Geren, who now heads Fort Worth’s Sid W. Richardson Foundation.
Former Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief says Granger’s approach to domestic issues works to her advantage internationally.
“The voice of common sense and sound reasoning has always been a part of her DNA,” he said.
“Her congressional responsibilities have carried her from one end of the planet to another; she’s extremely well-traveled and knowledgeable about cultures and countries.”Top