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Several Members Eye DeLay’s Seat on Approps

The decision by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) to leave office before the close of the 109th Congress will create the second GOP vacancy on the Appropriations Committee in recent months.

The former Majority Leader reclaimed his seat on the panel in February, filling the vacancy created when Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) resigned in late 2005 after pleading guilty to accepting millions of dollars in bribes.

DeLay — a senior panel member who had been expected to take over a subcommittee chairmanship in the 110th Congress — had taken a leave of absence from the committee after winning the No. 2 leadership post in 2002.

Competition for the impending vacancy — which could occur as early as June, when DeLay has said he intends to step down — will include many of the same candidates who jockeyed for Cunningham’s former seat earlier this year.

Among those Members is Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), who had been viewed by observers as the most likely candidate for the first vacancy before DeLay entered the race.

At that time, Calvert won the support of fellow Californian and Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R), who argued that the slot should remain in the possession of the 53-seat California delegation. A Calvert spokesman did not return a call Tuesday.

Also vying for the slot are two South Carolina lawmakers, Reps. Henry Brown (R) and Joe Wilson (R).

Brown stated that he didn’t want to appear “presumptuous” in discussing his candidacy less than a full day after DeLay had announced his impending resignation, but he confirmed that “it’s been a continued interest of mine to get on the Appropriations committee.”

A spokeswoman for Wilson confirmed Tuesday the lawmaker continues to be similarly interested in the seat.

While Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) sits on the panel’s minority side, Brown said the committee has not had a Republican from the state serve since 1980. “It would seem like at some point in time it would be our turn to serve again,” Brown said.

Brown also cited his experience with appropriations issues while serving in the South Carolina Legislature.

Like other Members angling for the seat, Brown said he also will continue to eye one of the seats that is set to open in the 110th Congress, created by the departures of Reps. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) and Ernest Istook (R-Okla.).

Alabama Rep. Jo Bonner (R) — who served as the top aide to then-Rep. Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.), an Appropriations cardinal, before he won a House seat in the 108th Congress — is also in contention for the expected vacancy.

In a statement Tuesday, Bonner said, “Our first priority has to be keeping the majority this November. While I am sorry to see Tom DeLay leave the House, my desire to serve on the Appropriations Committee has not changed. To that end, I hope to be favorably considered for a seat on the committee in the foreseeable future.”

It is unlikely that the House Republican Steering Committee will schedule a meeting to select a replacement prior to DeLay’s final days in office. Any selection by the steering committee, which is chaired by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and is made up of 28 members, must then be approved by the full Republican Conference.

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