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Upton Endorsed by Republicans to Lead Energy Panel Over Barton

Michigan Republican Fred Upton
Michigan Republican Fred Upton was selected to chair the Energy and Commerce. Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Representative Fred Upton was endorsed by a Republican leadership panel to head the House Energy and Commerce Committee, overcoming objections from Tea Party activists who said his record wasn’t conservative enough.

The Republican Steering Committee, which nominates chairmen for congressional panels, chose Upton of Michigan yesterday over Representatives Joe Barton of Texas, John Shimkus of Illinois and Cliff Stearns of Florida. The full Republican conference may vote on the recommendations today.

“We face many challenges, but priority No. 1 is to repeal the job-killing Obamacare law,” Upton said in an e-mailed statement after the vote. “Energy and Commerce will also immediately adopt new rules to cut spending and restore fiscal responsibility.”

Upton takes over a committee with jurisdiction for such issues as vehicle-safety and emissions, energy policy, telecommunications and health care. The panel may be used by Republicans to begin the effort to repeal the health-care overhaul law and block environmental initiatives pushed by President Barack Obama.

Upton was criticized by Republicans for voting to phase out the incandescent light bulb and expand a federal-health insurance program for children.

Barton, a Texas Republican who is now the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, and the other candidates can appeal and ask the full Republican membership to reject Upton’s nomination. Steering committee recommendations typically are adopted by the conference.

Barton BP Apology

Barton, a former committee chairman, was considered an underdog in part because House Republican rules place term limits on how long a member may serve as the chairman or top Republican on a committee. He was pressed by party leaders in June to retract an apology he gave to BP Plc during a hearing on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. He complied several hours later.

Upton “is taking over the best committee in Congress,” Barton said in a statement. “He has an enormous job ahead, and I’m going to do everything I know how to make his chairmanship the kind of success that the American people want and expect.”

Upton faced opposition from FreedomWorks, a Washington group aligned with the Tea Party movement that supports less government and lower spending, and radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, who cited the light-bulb bill as an example of federal “nannyism.”

Opposition Campaign

FreedomWorks mounted a “Down with Upton” Web campaign and this week delivered more than 35,000 petitions opposing his candidacy, said Max Pappas, vice president of public policy for the group. An additional 2,200 people called steering committee members, Pappas said in an e-mail.

When the candidates made their cases to the committee last week, Upton showed the panel articles from David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, and other Republicans in support of his candidacy.

Representative Lynn Westmoreland, a Georgia Republican and steering panel member, said after the vote that Upton did a “good job of dispelling some of the charges out there that were against him,” noting the letters endorsing him from prominent Republicans in and out of Congress.

Representative Doc Hastings, the incoming chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, is pushing to limit the authority of the Energy and Commerce Committee. The Washington state Republican wants to claim jurisdiction over energy policy from the energy committee, a move opposed by Upton and Barton.

The resources panel now oversees energy development on federal lands and in offshore waters.

Hastings argues the shift would allow one committee to focus on health-care repeal while the other pursues party’s energy agenda.

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