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WASHINGTON — A year ago, when Tom Cole was announced as the new chairman of the powerful House panel that funds medical research programs, he was no expert on medical science.

The Oklahoma Republican was well known in Congress for his political savvy and his ties to the GOP leadership. An affable, laid-back lawmaker with a pragmatic streak, Cole was an ally of John Boehner, then the House speaker, and a skilled operative.


He had run the GOP organization in charge of reelecting House Republicans, and was the chief of staff at the Republican National Committee in 2000. But no one would have named Cole as a particularly influential lawmaker on health care.

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