Texas Republicans expect big role in new Congress

Sen. John Cornyn in as majority whip; Rep. Lamar Smith in as committee chair

SAN ANTONIO – When Congress convenes again in January, it will have a decidedly Republican flavor. And two high-ranking Republicans from Texas may play big roles in the Senate and House in determining what legislation gets passed.

Sen. John Cornyn will become Senate majority whip and Rep. Lamar Smith, of San Antonio, is set to become the chair of the Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Wednesday was a far cry from the halls of Congress for Cornyn. He joined his wife and two daughters to pick apart turkeys to be fed to the elderly and needy at the Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Dinner.

"It's something that anybody could do," Cornyn joked. "Obviously even a senator can do that."

While the people who attend the dinner have a lot to be thankful for, so do Republicans in Congress. They will start next year with majorities in both the House and Senate.

Cornyn said there is a full list of things to do.

"I think it's jobs and the economy," Cornyn said. "Let's pass the Keystone XL Pipeline, let's export natural gas. Let's get our tax code back to a rational basis and right now we have the highest business tax in the world."

Cornyn also wants to tackle transportation infrastructure, saying it is a huge challenge in Texas to keep the roads in good shape.

Immigration is also high on the list for lawmakers, especially for Smith after the president signed executive orders that protect 5 million people from deportation.

"The president's executive order is just an open invitation to millions of people to engage in fraud," Smith said. "Just because the president is frustrated or impatient with Congress passing immigration law does not give him a right to violate the Constitution."

But Smith also agrees with Cornyn that the economy should be the biggest focus in Congress.

"The priorities in the new Congress, at least in the first couple of months, is going to be job-creation and getting our financial house in order," Smith said.

To get things done, Cornyn hopes the far right wing of his party is able to work with Democrats.

"It takes compromise," Cornyn said. "That's not a dirty word. I firmly believe in the 80/20 rule. If you can agree on 80 percent, and the 20 percent you can't agree on you can save for another day. When you insist on 'My way 100 percent of the time or nothing,' you usually get nothing."

He said his party has a new obligation as the ruling party to make things work and create changes that are positive for the country.

"It's a big responsibility but I hope and trust that we're up for the challenge," Cornyn said. "Once you win, you have the responsibility to actually govern and work across the aisle and to solve problems. And that's what I'm committed to doing."

But working together for some in his party may be harder than picking apart turkeys. In the U.S. House, Texas could have a lot of clout next year if committee chair recommendations are approved.

Besides Smith as the Science, Space and Technology committee chair, Reps. Mike Conaway of Midland is up for the Agriculture Committee, Mac Thornberry of Amarillo is slated for the Armed Services Committee, Jeb Hensarling of Dallas has been selected as chair of the Financial Services Committee and Michael McCaul of Austin will chair the Homeland Security Committee.