Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas almost did not become the next chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.
The three-way vote to decide the panel’s new boss was described by members as one of the closest they have ever seen, with the Republican Steering Committee voting as many as nine times before breaking the tie and deciding on McCaul.
“I’ve been here 22 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said during the private meeting Tuesday afternoon, according to a source in the room.
Because sitting committee chairmen recuse themselves from voting on other committee chairmen, the steering committee had just 30 votes in the pool, including Boehner’s five votes and two controlled by Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.
As a result, the first three rounds of voting produced three-way ties, with McCaul, Rep. Mike D. Rogers of Alabama and Rep. Candice S. Miller of Michigan garnering 10 votes each. Finally, on the fourth try, Miller was eliminated.
“Everybody was in agony over it,” said a member of the steering committee, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal conference deliberations.
The members said that electing three women to conference leadership positions earlier this month alleviated some of the pressure to install a female committee head. Miller would have been the only Republican woman in such a position in the 113th Congress.
Nonetheless, the race between McCaul and Rogers, both of whom are more senior than Miller but joined the panel in the same year, was no easier. The steering committee voted three more times, each time coming up with a 15-to-15 tie. Finally, Boehner decided to take a break to move on to other business and to give members time to think about the decision and come back to the vote later.
But when they reconvened for another vote, the result was again a tie.
“It was just one of those things that was impossible to choose,” the member said.
Finally, on the ninth vote, at least one member switched sides, and McCaul emerged with a majority of the votes.
Several insiders described McCaul’s win as an upset. Heading into the vote, staffers and other members had described the choice as one between Rogers and Miller, with McCaul on the outside.
Still, McCaul said he secured the nod by emphasizing his background as a federal prosecutor for the Justice Department and as a chief of counterterrorism and national security for Texas’ branch of the U.S. attorney’s office.
“When the shoe drops, you want a guy who’s got to represent the conference on the TV or media who has experience, not only on Homeland, which I have had from day one, but that kind of prior experience,” he said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.