The House Republican leadership will hear Tuesday from three contenders for the top job on the House Armed Services Committee, now that President Obama has tapped the current ranking member, Rep. John M. McHugh, R-N.Y., as his nominee to be Army secretary.
Just last week, sources close to Republican Leader John Boehner said they didn’t expect McHugh to resign his leadership position until the Senate confirms him, which could take at least several weeks.
But on Thursday, McHugh announced he was resigning his leadership post, sparking a race to succeed him as the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, which oversees the $500 billion Pentagon budget, just as budget talks get under way.
If seniority alone were the deciding factor, conservative Maryland lawmaker Roscoe Bartlett would get the job. But Boehner is entertaining a challenge from Howard “Buck” McKeon of California and William “Mac” Thornberry of Texas, both of whom have less seniority.
Boehner has spoken to all three about the position. Leadership sources told Newsmax that the steering committee expects all three to make their pitch at the leadership meeting Tuesday.
“My boss wants to hear their vision for how they want to lead the committee before he decides,” a top leadership aide told Newsmax.
Bartlett has been on the Armed Services Committee since he came to Congress in 1993 and is ranking member on the Air and Land subcommittee, where he has won strong support from fellow conservatives.
“Every conservative should do what they can to make sure that Roscoe Bartlett gets this position,” said Morton Blackwell, who co-chairs the weekly Weyrich lunch, a coalition of national conservative groups.
Bartlett also won support from former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, who has worked extensively with him on energy security.
“Roscoe Bartlett has been a congressional and national leader on these issues,” Woolsey told Newsmax. “He is an extremely able and fine representative.”
Along with Rep. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, who was defeated in 2006, Bartlett was instrumental in establishing a blue ribbon commission to study the vulnerability of America’s infrastructure to an electromagnetic-pulse attack, which involves the explosion of a nuclear warhead high in the atmosphere.
During a congressional hearing in July, Commission Chairman William Graham warned that an EMP attack would take America “back into the 1800s,” when pre-industrial America could sustain a population of around 30 million people.
Graham revealed at the hearing that Iran has been conducting missile tests that would appear to be dry runs for an EMP attack on the United States. “I’d have to say that seventy to ninety percent of the population would not be sustainable after this kind of attack,” he said.
[For more on this, read " U.S. intel: Iran Plans Nuclear Strike on U.S."]
Bartlett supporters suggested that Boehner is seeking to sideline the Maryland conservative from the top Armed Services Committee job because he has not hit up U.S. defense companies for political contributions.
“Let’s face it, Mr. Bartlett has not raised boatloads of money,” an aide said. “But he has been giving increasingly to fellow Republicans.”
During the 2008 race, Bartlett raised $323,051, and spent just $204,443, according to FEC records. Of that money, he raised just over $50,000 from defense companies.
By contrast, McKeon raised more than $1 million for his re-election campaign, and another $900,000 for his 21st Century Leadership PAC, much of which was distributed to other Republicans.
Thornberry raised and spent just under $800,000 for his re-election campaign last year, while raising another $68,000 for other Republicans through his “Stand Tall America” PAC.
McKeon, who holds the ranking member position on the House Education and Labor committee, would resign that position if he were chosen Tuesday to bump up on Armed Services, an aide said.
Some have criticized McKeon for rarely attending Armed Services Committee hearings and subcommittee meetings, but McKeon spokeswoman Lindsey Mask said he has attended meetings “to the degree that his schedule allowed.
“Mr. McKeon has a very strong background in defense issues,” Mask told Newsmax. “He has seven military installations in his district.”
“McKeon knows how to run a committee and has a strategy he can implement quickly” if elected as ranking member, she said.
Thornberry has been on the Armed Services Committee for 13 years and is ranking member on a House intelligence subcommittee.
When President Obama selects a Republican for a government job, odds are he has his eyes on the impact the nominee’s resignation will have on the Republican Party.
The best example was when he offered Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the job as secretary of Commerce in February. At the time, Democrats were short of a 60-vote majority in the Senate, and they knew that New Hampshire’s Democrat governor was likely to name a Democrat to replace him. (Gregg withdrew his name just two weeks later).
By picking McHugh as Army secretary, Obama not only sparked a leadership race between conservatives and moderates in Congress but also opened the possibility of a second Democrat Party win in upstate New York, a Republican bastion until recently.
In a special by-election in April in upstate New York, Democrat upstart Scott Murphy edged out long-time Republican Assemblyman James Tedisco by just 400 votes.
Clearly, Obama and House Democrats hope to repeat that victory in the special election to replace McHugh.
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