Cox: Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride (Yet)

Posted September 9, 2004 at 2:50pm

Washington teems with politicians whose résumés are dazzling, full of weighty titles in numerous avenues of government service. But while he has plenty of experience, Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) may be best known for the jobs he hasn’t held.

Earlier this year, multiple press accounts portrayed Cox as a candidate for director of central intelligence. Now that President Bush has named Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) as his choice to head the CIA, that post can be added to an impressively long list of positions for which Cox has been “mentioned” but never hired, including vice president, Supreme Court justice, federal appeals court judge, United Nations ambassador, Speaker, Majority Leader, Senator and governor.

Cox’s current job is a busy one. In addition to chairing the Homeland Security Committee, he serves as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee and as a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Cox, a former counsel in the Reagan White House, has also served on or headed myriad commissions, task forces and advisory panels.

Yet when it comes to actually moving up and out of the House since he was elected in 1988, Cox has always been a Washington bridesmaid, watching others walk down the aisle of career advancement.

Actually, it may be worse, suggested one House Republican aide: “It’s more like never being invited to the wedding.”

Cox politely declined to comment for this story, and what was not clear in the case of the CIA position — or in some of the previous instances when his name was floated — is whether the California lawmaker actively sought these jobs. Nor is it clear whether he was sought after, or whether his name just plummeted mysteriously from the Washington ether into the newspaper.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R), one of Cox’s closest friends on the Hill, suggested that the frequent floating of the name of his fellow Californian should come as no surprise.

“You’ve got a guy who is universally recognized as one of the brighter Members, a guy who is extremely well-read and articulate and very presentable,” Rohrabacher said.

While some of the posts suggested for Cox are based on his background as a law clerk or a foreign-policy expert, others have had more to do with his demographic and geographical profile.

In a 1995 column, the conservative scribe George Will suggested that the next year’s GOP presidential pick should fill out his ticket with Cox.

“The Republican nominee may be tempted, for purely electoral reasons, to do the right thing for the country — to pick as his running mate four-term Rep. Chris Cox of Newport Beach, Calif., a … member of the Republican leadership and a Catholic with degrees from Harvard’s law and business schools,” Will wrote.

Unfortunately for Cox, presidential nominee Bob Dole ignored Will’s advice and chose as his ticket-mate another fixture on the “mentioned” circuit: ex-Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.).

Just having an influential backer like Will can be enough to get Cox’s name into circulation for a post, regardless of whether the lawmaker or the prospective employer even considered the idea.

“I think he has very good connections among Republicans and within Republican administrations,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), citing the Will column.

So he has the connections and the profile. Then why hasn’t Cox ever gotten the job?

“I would just say it’s circumstances,” said Rohrabacher. “When everything was said and done and the dots were in a row, they didn’t connect to Chris.”

Some of Cox’s brushes with upward mobility have been closer than others. In 2001, he was set to be nominated by President Bush for a judgeship on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But he soon withdrew his name from consideration after his Golden State colleague, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D), announced her opposition to his nomination.

Cox’s candidacy for a higher judicial post has never progressed that far. An appointment to the appeals court would have been Cox’s most likely stepping stone to the Supreme Court.

Similarly stunted was Cox’s 1998 bid for the Speakership. On the tumultuous December day when then-Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.) announced that he would resign from the House rather than stand for Speaker, Cox — for a few hours at least — was in the running for Speaker before withdrawing in favor of Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

That day came just six weeks after Cox briefly stood for Speaker against Livingston. After that, his name was also floated as a potential late entrant into the race for Majority Leader.

Following all those machinations on the Hill, Cox also let it be known that he might run for the Senate in 2000. As he had in the 1994 and 1998 campaigns, Cox declined to make the race.

While never having secured higher office might be discouraging, Cox’s colleagues said they considered it better for him to have been mentioned and discarded than never mentioned at all.

“The only thing they ever mention about me is that I’m a surfer and I have triplets,” Rohrabacher said. “Chris is always mentioned about everything else.”

Waxman feigned similar envy.

“I’m starting to feel really crummy, now that you mention it,” said the Democrat. “I’ve never been mentioned for any of these positions.”