GOP Gavel Fights: 11 House Committee Chairmanships In Play
By Emma Dumain and Matt Fuller, CQ Roll Call (MCT)
WASHINGTON — Almost every House member is on the stump this month, wrapping up re-election bids, with most cruising to new terms and a handful on both sides of the aisle scrambling to hang on to their jobs. But for a select few GOP lawmakers — those actively seeking committee chairmanships — the final days before Nov. 4 are as much about lining up support among colleagues as they are about connecting with voters.
Every two years, after the Election Day dust settles, members return to Capitol Hill for a lame-duck session that includes the selection of colleagues to serve as senior lawmakers on the chamber’s standing committees during the new Congress.
Republicans, widely expected to retain the majority this cycle, will be particularly busy during the lame duck, scheduled to begin Nov. 12, when it comes to doling out committee leadership appointments. Thanks to retirements, possible assignment shuffles and a 20-year rule capping panel leadership at three terms, as many as 11 out of 21 committees could see new chairmen in the 114th Congress.
A 12th committee could even be at play, if term-limited Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas of Oklahoma decides to challenge Jeb Hensarling’s grip on the Financial Services gavel, as he recently suggested he might.
For the decidedly open chairmanships, some lawmakers are expected to win their desired posting without competition, while others will be facing off against their peers. All of the slots are filled by a secret ballot vote of members on the Republican Steering Committee, comprised of party leaders, top-tier panel chairmen and regional representatives.
Here’s a rundown of 11 committee gavels that are up for grabs, and which members stand to snag them.
• Oversight and Government Reform. Perhaps no race is as contentious and unclear. With Darrell Issa of California term-limited, at least four members are actively vying for the gavel: Jason Chaffetz of Utah, Michael R. Turner of Ohio, Jim Jordan of Ohio and John L. Mica of Florida. Chaffetz has been making a compelling case to colleagues that his singular focus on Oversight and Government Reform could be valuable in racking up points against the Obama administration, and his efforts to court the panel’s ranking Democrat, Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, have seen some success. But Turner is also making a strong case, and while Speaker John A. Boehner is expected to stay out of it, the fellow Ohioan could be the speaker’s favorite. Of course, another Ohio Republican, Jordan, could cut into Turner’s home-state advantage. Mica faces the longest odds: He has a reputation for being an unreliable party spokesman and members worry that his quirks would be a distraction — and an embarrassment.
• Intelligence. While the speaker’s pick for a committee chairmen always matters, it matters most on three committees: Intelligence, Ethics and Administration. The speaker actually selects a member for those top panel spots, and that’s good news for Devin Nunes of California. Nunes is close to Boehner, and he’s made his desire for the Intelligence spot no secret. Of course, Peter T. King of New York is also going for it, as is Mike Pompeo of Kansas. But aides say Nunes is likely to get the nod over those competitors. The only wild card is Jeff Miller of Florida, who has more seniority than any of those competitors but currently heads the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
• Veterans’ Affairs. This is a race only insofar as current Chairman Miller might be looking to move up. By almost every GOP account, Miller has done a solid job dealing with a number of high-profile issues, and he’ll likely stay put. However, if he were to make a bid for the Intelligence chairmanship and get it, there’d be plenty of suitors for the VA gavel. Among them: the current vice chairman of the committee, Gus Bilirakis of Florida, Doug Lamborn of Colorado, Phil Roe of Tennessee and Bill Flores of Texas.
• Education and the Workforce. Rep. Paul D. Ryan was the most recent member to get a waiver from leadership to serve a fourth term as a committee chairman; Rep. John Kline of Minnesota is poised to be the next. The current chairman of Education and the Workforce wants to stay, and GOP sources say the chair is his to keep, especially given his close relationship with Boehner. Should Kline not succeed getting a term-limit extension, Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina is next in line.
• Ways and Means. Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan is retiring, but his six-year term limit as the top Republican on the powerful tax-writing panel was coming up, anyway. Conventional wisdom holds that the gavel will go to now-Budget chairman Ryan, an all-around shining star of the Republican Party whom members love and are inclined to reward, within reason. It doesn’t mean that Ryan will be running unopposed: Texan Kevin Brady is one notch above Ryan in seniority on the committee, and his office confirms he’s still in the game.
• Budget. Assuming Ryan moves over to Ways and Means, the heir apparent on Budget is Vice-Chairman Tom Price of Georgia. A former chairman of the Republican Study Committee and Republican Policy Committee, he lost his leadership seat at the table in 2012 when Speaker John A. Boehner asked him to bow out of the race against Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington to lead the GOP Conference. The speaker gets to nominate the Budget chairman, and he surely owes Price a favor.
• Natural Resources. The overwhelming favorite is Rob Bishop of Utah. While he’s not the most senior, he’s positioned himself as the most likely. Don Young of Alaska has already served his stints as a chairman, and Louie Gohmert of Texas, while certainly interested, isn’t apt to get much support from the speaker or the rest of the Steering Committee for being a consistent thorn in leadership’s side. That leaves Bishop next in line, and he has proved himself in the eyes of Republican leaders to be a capable legislator and team player.
• Armed Services. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon is retiring at the end of this year, leaving the Armed Services chairmanship available. It will probably get scooped up by Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, who vied — unsuccessfully — for the post in the past. Thornberry also isn’t hurt by McKeon’s implicit endorsement. He could face a challenge from J. Randy Forbes of Virginia, who aides say is “seriously considering” a bid for the gavel.
• Small Business. With Sam Graves of Missouri term-limited, the natural heir is Steve Chabot of Ohio. Chabot is the most senior Republican on the committee, and he once held the ranking member spot before he lost re-election in 2008. Chabot came back to Congress in the 2010 wave, and his seniority came with him. There could still be a race for the position, however, with Scott Tipton of Colorado, Richard Hanna of New York and Chris Collins of New York all showing some potential interest.
• Agriculture. With Lucas of Oklahoma ending his six-year run as chairman, lawmakers and aides expect K. Michael Conaway of Texas to be his replacement. Conaway isn’t the most senior member on the panel, but he’s the biggest team player of the four members ahead of him (plus, Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia is already the chairman on Judiciary). Conaway will likely have backing from Boehner, who appointed Conaway in 2012 to lead the Ethics Committee.
• Ethics. This committee’s leadership — and membership — is by appointment only, and it’s not a posting for which any member lobbies. Assuming Conaway moves to Agriculture after just one term as Ethics chairman, Boehner could elevate a current panel member to succeed him, or he could look elsewhere in the conference. While it’s not a desired assignment, it’s still considered an honor to be given leadership responsibilities by the speaker.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr