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Meet Georgia’s top border wall negotiator

Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ranger) speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill on June 21, 2017. (Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images)
Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ranger) speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill on June 21, 2017. (Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images)

Credit: Tamar Hallerman

Credit: Tamar Hallerman

Congressman Tom Graves, the only Georgia member of a new committee tasked with hashing out a deal for President Donald Trump's border wall, is a conservative firebrand-turned-leadership ally. That background that could put him at odds with other members of the panel as they look to forge a bipartisan funding agreement before a key Feb. 15 deadline.

All eyes will be on the Ranger Republican and his 16 House and Senate colleagues today as they hold their first public meeting since the committee was created by last week's shutdown ceasefire agreement.

Graves on Tuesday was relatively optimistic about the group, which is filled with longtime colleagues from the House and Senate Appropriations committees known for cutting bipartisan deals. He said his focus is finding consensus on a bill that “keeps the government open, secures our border and has the president’s signature at the end of the day.”

But Graves also made clear that he saw himself as a “conduit” between the committee and House GOP leadership.

“This is a discussion about providing the necessary resources to best secure our homeland, that is it,” he said during a press conference with party leaders. “Nothing more and nothing else.”

Read more: Georgia's Tom Graves changed his ways, gained influence in Congress

A former state legislator who arrived in Congress just ahead of the tea party wave in 2010, Graves has occasionally butted heads with his GOP appropriator colleagues, who are generally more aligned with the party establishment.

He angered the panel's then-Republican chairman in 2013 when he went around the committee and beat the drum on the Obamacare shutdown. He also ruffled feathers last fall with his attempt to leapfrog several more senior colleagues to become the panel's top Republican. (He ultimately lost out to Texan Kay Granger, who is also on the border conference committee.)

Graves is a close ally of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who appointed him to the border security panel even though his wheelhouse for the last two years has been the financial regulatory world.

Much of the debate with Democrats will undoubtedly center on semantics and what exactly constitutes a border barrier. Graves said constituents in his deeply conservative Northwest Georgia district just want lawmakers to strike a deal.

“People are worried about terminology,” Graves said of his colleagues on the committee. “Let’s be more focused on comprehensive security and let that work itself out.”

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