The announced retirement of House Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) this morning has opened up a power vacuum atop the influential committee, but as rumors of his imminent exit swirled for months, GOP leaders were quietly mulling who could replace him.
So far, two candidates for the job have risen to the top of the list to fill the Speaker-appointed post, according to several sources close to the issue. Those are two Members close to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio): Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), the second-ranking Republican on the Rules Committee, and Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.).
"Pete Sessions has been there a long time," Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), a member of the Rules Committee, said Tuesday, just hours before Dreier's announcement. "Doc Hastings was there a long time and is coming at the end of his cycle over at the committee at which he is, so you've got all sorts of options that are out there."
When asked the day before he announced his retirement who could succeed him as chairman, Dreier said only, "If I were not here, it's always the Speaker's call.
"Anybody could fill my shoes," he joked.
Of course, Dreier and every other Republican knows that is not the case.
One of the GOP's most articulate and tactical minds, Dreier is renowned as a procedural maestro, going toe-to-toe with the committee ranking member Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) to bring difficult bills and amendments to the House floor.
Dreier, 59, this morning announced he would retire at the end of the term to join the private sector. He said he wanted to retire three years ago but stayed on to help as Republicans won the House majority.
"I have always believed that Republicans and Democrats alike serve the American people best when we find ways to build bipartisan consensus. The framers of our constitution envisioned Congress as a forum for a great clash of ideas. We all have different, sometimes radically different, views of how to build a better and stronger America. I have always believed that our efforts must be rooted in our pursuit of a free economy, personal freedom, limited government, and a strong national defense. Others may take a different view. These differences demand a passionate debate, but that debate must ultimately arrive at consensus," Dreier said in a statement.
His decision this year was spurred along when the California Citizens Redistricting Commission carved up his district, leaving him with no clear constituency to represent. The 16-term lawmaker put up dismal fundraising numbers in the fourth quarter of 2011, hauling in just more than $10,000, making his retirement announcement just a matter of time.
Sources close to Boehner speculated that his first preference would be to install Sessions atop the committee. The move would not only reward the Texas lawmaker for his loyalty, but also avoid a high-profile leadership fight that almost happened just more than a year ago.