Early on, I learned how important it is to prepare for committee hearings: Read the materials, do your own independent research, and use your five minutes of questioning as well as you can. I looked for a line of questioning that was different or unique. I showed up on time, and I listened to my colleagues who had been doing this for a long time. Mike Pence, Jim Sensenbrenner, Dan Lungren, Randy Forbes, Bobby Scott, and several others were seasoned questioners. I watched and listened to them closely, and I tried to learn.
Your committee assignments control most of your time, allow you to pursue your policy objectives, and often dictate your sphere of influence. If you're an attorney who wants to reform the civil or criminal justice systems, for example, it is essential to be on the Judiciary Committee. If tax reform is your calling, you need to be on the Ways and Means Committee.
These highly significant committee assignments are made by the House Steering Committee, which sometimes seems as if it is populated by Zeus, Poseidon, the Titans, and the Cardinals. The Steering Committee sits behind closed doors and not only picks committee chairpersons, but also fills all the other committee slots. The most highly coveted committees in the House—Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, Appropriations, and Rules—get people like Tim Scott. Then the committee gods look at who's left—someone like me, for example—and they think, Well, we have to put him somewhere, don't we?
Because I was a former prosecutor, the Judiciary Committee seemed like a natural fit for me. Former Majority Leader Eric Cantor and then Judiciary Committee chairman Lamar Smith were very instrumental in making that happen. Had Eric and Lamar not taken a chance on me, I would never have been on the Judiciary Committee. I also was placed on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, thanks to Darrell Issa, and the Committee on Education and the Workforce, which was a committee near and dear to the heart of former House Speaker John Boehner.
Tim was initially placed on the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, but he later relinquished those appointments when he was selected by Speaker Boehner for the powerful House Rules Committee. The House Rules Committee determines the order of business in the House, which amendments are made in order, and how bills will be brought to the floor. Tim's appointment to the Rules Committee was a testimony to his obvious talents as a legislator, as well as an indication of his rapid rise to significance in the House. It was just one more example of the superstar status Tim achieved right from the start.
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Though Trey and I are both from South Carolina, a relatively small state, we had never met before our election to Congress. I remember the first time I met Trey at freshman orientation. From the beginning, he struck me as someone who is sharp, clear, and articulate. To win a congressional seat, Trey had to defeat an incumbent Republican congressman, which is no small feat. You have to be tenacious, and you have to be disciplined. Trey Gowdy is both of those things.
One of Trey's signatures is his wardrobe. His suits are not flashy, but they're...well, unusual. His appearance is always interesting, from his hair to his shoes, including his socks. (He has been known to wear a dark suit with white socks.) When you first meet him, he seems fairly understated; but if you engage him in conversation, you very quickly realize that first impressions can be misleading.
Though Mick Mulvaney, Jeff Duncan, and I had previously served in the South Carolina legislature, Trey's background was as a prosecutor with several appearances on Court TV and Forensic Files. It had to have been difficult to come into Congress without any prior legislative experience, but Trey is a quick study and a disciplined student. His acumen as a prosecutor was well known in South Carolina, and it wouldn't be long before the nation would discover that Trey has a very special gift for cross-examination.
As we acclimated to Congress, the four of us started meeting to confer on the issues and discuss how we were leaning on upcoming votes. We were motivated by the need to get up to speed quickly, and we were all looking for ways to be as prepared as possible for the task at hand. We ate dinner together as often as we could, and we would bounce ideas off each other and take advantage of our different perspectives, passions, experience, and expertise.
A lot of folks in our incoming class were in a similar age range, significantly younger than the average member of Congress. With all that youth came inexperience, but also optimism. We were motivated by the challenge of serving the nation.
We had some great mentors in the other two members of our state delegation, Joe Wilson and Jim Clyburn. We called Joe Wilson our scoutmaster. He's about fifteen years older than we are, and he was our senior member of Congress on the Republican side. He did everything he could to help us get into the rhythm of our committee assignments. Joe is full of optimism and always has a word of encouragement for us. He is among the most thoughtful and considerate people in the House.
Similarly, Democrat James Clyburn became a strong ally on all things pertaining to South Carolina. Though he is on the other side of the aisle, he was kind and gracious to us from the day we arrived. Well respected as a senior statesman, Mr. Clyburn has always been dedicated to the progress of South Carolina and the nation. We appreciated that we could always turn to him for help with state projects and to advocate with our colleagues on both sides of the
aisle. Even now, he is highly respected for his knowledge on a number of issues as well as his influence as a member of the Democratic leadership.
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