Timmons Cunningham

U.S. Reps-elect William Timmons, R-Greenville, and Joe Cunningham, D-Charleston, have arrived in Washington for congressional orientation. File/Jamie Lovegrove/Staff. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

WASHINGTON — The two newest members of the South Carolina delegation arrived Tuesday in the nation's capital, where early jockeying for influence is already getting under way as incoming lawmakers begin congressional orientation.

As U.S. Rep.-elect Joe Cunningham begins the search for committee appointments, U.S. Rep.-elect William Timmons of Greenville is pursuing the sole freshman spot on the GOP steering committee, the key panel that decides committee placements for all other Republican members.

While committee placements can be an insular process, the outcomes will shape new lawmakers' odds of success in their first terms, the topics that will consume most of their attention and the types of progress they will be able to point to when campaigning for reelection.

Also in the mix for the coveted steering committee role is U.S. Rep-elect Dan Crenshaw of Texas, a Navy veteran who rose to national prominence recently with an acclaimed appearance on "Saturday Night Live." The freshman class is expected to vote for the position within the next few weeks.

Timmons has several early advantages in the race. Some members are wary about giving Texas more power in the new session of Congress, as the Lone Star State already holds multiple gavels and other spots on the steering committee.

Timmons also has already proved to be a generous benefactor to Republicans, doling out about $60,000 from his campaign to other GOP candidates in competitive races in the closing weeks of the midterm elections — including to several Texans, including Chip Roy, Will Hurd, Michael Cloud, Van Taylor and Crenshaw.

Timmons had nothing but positive words for Crenshaw, calling him a "true American hero who will be important for the Republican conference for many years to come."

"The freshman class will be well well-represented whether it's me or Dan Crenshaw as our steering rep," Timmons told The Post and Courier.

To help shepherd him through the process, Timmons is hiring a chief of staff with experience in the South Carolina delegation: Moutray McLaren, a former legislative director for ex-congressman Mick Mulvaney who went with the Indian Land Republican to the federal Office of Management and Budget when Trump appointed Mulvaney to lead the agency in 2017.

Timmons has spent weeks preparing for his new role in Washington because he was widely expected to win his race, but Cunningham — a Democrat whose upset victory in the Lowcountry's 1st Congressional District was far less expected and who has spent the past few days closing out legal cases — is just beginning to get acquainted on Capitol Hill.

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Cunningham is eyeing several possible committees that would give him prime opportunity to focus on some of the issues he put front and center on the campaign trail:

  • Appropriations, which directs federal spending and could give him an opportunity to provide needed help to the Lowcountry
  • Transportation, where he could work with the Trump administration on new infrastructure packages
  • Natural Resources, which oversees the offshore drilling issue that became such a prominent part of his campaign

Cunningham's spokesman, Tyler Jones, said the incoming congressman is waiting to learn more about the process through this week's orientation before deciding exactly where he wants to be, but he agreed that those committees would be an ideal fit for him.

Potentially providing a helping hand in Cunningham's corner could be U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, who is likely to resume his role as the third-ranking House Democrat in the new majority. That would put him in a strong position to look out for his fellow South Carolinian.

On the Senate side, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is still waiting to see if U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, decides to take over the Finance Committee. If he does, he would vacate his position atop the Judiciary Committee, leaving Graham to take his place.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina statehouse and congressional delegation. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.