Faced with blistering assaults from his right, the Michigan Republican played it cool every step of the way en route to winning the nod Tuesday to become the next chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and the tea party hit the airwaves and Internet campaigning against Upton over the last month, saying his record was nowhere near conservative enough to be handed the reigns on one of the most powerful panels on Capitol Hill.
But Upton successfully pushed back, convincing Republican leaders, including Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner, that he had sufficient credentials for the job.
Upton made his case publicly through a series of op-eds with conservative heavyweights. And he told POLITICO that he was working the phones all the way up to the GOP Steering Committee's vote, including calls on Tuesday to American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene, Weekly Standard Executive Editor Fred Barnes and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist.
"They were very positive about the leadership we're going to provide and the direction we're going to go," Upton said just minutes after taking Boehner's congratulatory phone call. "No question about it."
Upton was in jovial spirits as the news sunk in that he will be handed the keys for high-profile items like the repeal attempt on President Barack Obama's health care law. He celebrated in his Rayburn office with his wife Amey, downing a Bell's Oberon Wheat Ale beer from his hometown Kalamazoo, Mich., brewery. En route to the Capitol for votes, he high fived the subway driver and accepted congratulations from lawmakers and aides.
Among conservatives, many said they were willing to accept Upton's promotion considering his seniority and pledges to follow the company line.
"Six months down the road, the proof will be in the pudding," said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), a Boehner ally and a member of the GOP Steering Committee. "He's been on the committee for a long time. He did a great presentation and he ran a great campaign. I think because of a lot of the criticism and stuff it's probably going to make him work harder to prove those things aren't true."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) brought up Upton's legislative efforts to ban the incandescent light bulb – a point that Beck and Limbaugh honed in on during their campaign to block his bid. Even so, the freshman favorite of the right said he's OK with Upton.
"Nobody's conservative enough for me," Chaffetz said. "He's been here a long time. I think he's done some things that he wishes he wouldn't have done ... Lightbulbs included. But hopefully he's learning from that. So let's try to give him the benefit of the doubt, give him a chance."
Under the gun for his past record on abortion issues, Upton made his first major choice with an eye on his right – picking Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) as chairman of the Health Subcommittee. “Together, we will protect the sanctity of life, ensuring early next Congress that no federal funds are used for abortion,” Upton said in a statement.
The new Energy and Commerce Committee chairman also said he will move early next year with an attempt to repeal the Obama-driven health care law. "I think a vote to repeal the health care bill will be very early," Upton said. "I look forward to working with the leadership to figuring the timing of it. I think there'll be significant Democrat support, with unanimous Republican support, to do so."
Any House-passed repeal of the entire law is expected to die in the Senate, but Upton has said he'll then attempt to undo pieces of the overall bill. Upton has also said he’d support aggressive oversight of the Department of Health and Human Services and frequently host Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for hearings.
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