ENERGY AND COMMERCE:

Upton expected to cross final hurdle to Energy gavel with GOP caucus vote today

A jubilant Fred Upton last night reiterated his plans for the House Energy and Commerce Committee and urged his fellow Republicans to approve his nomination to be chairman.

The Michigan Republican last night won the nod for the gavel, wrapping up a tight, four-man race that has been closely watched for weeks.

"I'm a happy guy. I'm a most happy fellow," he said last night in the Capitol.

Upton overcame opposition from more right-leaning members of his party who said he was not conservative enough to run the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. But his nomination last night by the GOP Steering Committee, which is heavily influenced by Republican leadership, still needs to be ratified by the full Republican caucus, a vote that could occur as early as this morning.

Upton beat out current ranking member Joe Barton of Texas and Reps. John Shimkus of Illinois and Cliff Stearns of Florida for the post. Barton -- or any other member of the caucus -- could still use a GOP procedural rule to challenge the selection. A Republican aide said any member can move to call a separate vote on individual committee leadership choices. Such a move would force a vote, and if the Steering Committee's recommendation was rejected, it would send the leadership selection back to the Steering Committee for another round of deliberations.

Barton, who has previously chaired the committee but ran up against GOP term limits in his current bid for the post, indicated last night that he would not challenge the decision.

"I called Chairman Upton and congratulated him and told him I'd do everything I could to make it a smooth transition and I wish him the very best. He's got the best committee in the House," Barton said last night in the Capitol. Separately, in a statement, he said, "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."

Shimkus and Stearns both offered their congratulations to Upton as well.

"I just finished congratulating Mr. Upton and look forward to working with him and obviously I'm disappointed, but I think that we have a big agenda, and we all have to pull together to make sure we get it accomplished," Stearns told reporters last night.

Upton, indeed, will have a big job ahead of him, as the much-hyped chairmanship decision has prompted all the members vying for the post to make bold promises. Upton has vowed to carefully scrutinize U.S. EPA's regulations and to pursue an "all of the above" energy plan.

Last night, he said his first priority would be repealing the health care law that passed earlier this year. But he also specifically mentioned upping oversight of the federal agencies under his committee's jurisdiction.

"The Obama administration is on notice -- they will not be allowed to regulate what they have been unable to legislate," he said in a statement.

After winning the Steering Committee nomination last night, Upton circulated a letter to Republican colleagues urging them to approve the panel's slate of committee leadership choices. In the letter, he also promises to include all members of the committee in decisions and to utilize junior members for their expertise in particular areas.

Subcommittee chairmanships

Upton has been vague in recent interviews about who he would select to lead the Energy panel's five subcommittees, but last night he promised the Health gavel to Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.). The other members who competed against Upton for the chairmanship would be well-positioned for subcommittee gavels, but all, save Stearns, would not commit to their preferences last night. Stearns said he would like to take over the Communications, Technology and the Internet Subcommittee, where he currently serves as ranking member.

Shimkus said he anticipated having discussions with Upton about a possible subcommittee chairmanship, but when asked which would be his preference, he demurred.

Barton, on the other hand, refused to talk about a potential subcommittee gavel altogether.

"I'm not going to comment," Barton said. "That's traditionally the prerogative of the chairman. I'm going to let Fred Upton enjoy his day."

Reactions

Early reaction to the news was mixed.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the current chairman of the committee and likely ranking member in the new Congress, said, "I'll look forward to working with him. He's a fine person, a respected legislator."

Waxman added, "We're certainly going to have strong disagreements, but I'm sure we'll handle it in a professional way."

Other members of the committee lamented Barton's loss.

"The Texan in me was pulling for the Texan to win the chairmanship," Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) said of Barton. But he added, "It's time to unify and move forward."

Rep. Ralph Hall, another Texas Republican who was selected last night to chair the Science and Technology Committee, said, "I did everything I could for Joe. He was a good chairman, a fair chairman."

Bracewell and Giuliani's Scott Segal called Upton "effective and productive."

Upton had compiled by far the most politically centrist record of the four contenders for the Energy and Commerce gavel.

Environmentalists praised the congressman's previous positions in favor of clean energy but said they were concerned about his recent statements on oil and gas drilling and opposition to renewable energy tax credits, among other things.

"We hope that, in this important post and in the face of pressure from corporate special interests and his own party, Rep. Upton will continue to stand up for the principles he's supported throughout his congressional tenure -- reducing pollution, allowing the EPA to do its job of protecting Americans' health, and increasing clean energy production," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune in a statement.

Adam Kolton, of the National Wildlife Federation, said Upton's selection as chairman could give him a venue for promoting clean energy development.

"But it only matters who your captain is if your team is willing to step onto the field and play," Kolton warned. "We're hopeful that the House Republicans will work with the Senate and President Obama to find meaningful solutions to our interconnected economic, energy and climate challenges."

Reporters Phil Taylor, Sarah Abruzzese and Katherine Ling contributed.