Panel’s Fate Will Decide Cox Role

Posted September 29, 2004 at 6:47pm

As the House Homeland Security Committee prepares to present its report to the Rules Committee today on the panel’s fate in the 109th Congress, Homeland Security Chairman Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) may soon have to make a decision of his own on his future in the leadership.

If Cox gets what he asks for — a permanent Homeland panel with real clout — then he may be asked to give up his chairmanship of the Republican Policy Committee, according to GOP leadership sources.

Cox is currently the only Republican in either chamber of Congress who holds both an elected leadership position and the top slot on a full committee.

If Cox decides to keep his Homeland Security gavel, that would allow another lawmaker to take the reins of the Policy Committee. Though no Members have publicly asked for that job, Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) is seen within the Conference as a likely contender.

Neither Portman’s nor Cox’s office would comment on such a scenario, but two leadership sources said it is under active consideration.

In addition to freeing up Cox to devote more time to a beefed-up Homeland panel, handing the job to Portman could also strengthen the Policy Committee. The Ohio lawmaker already enjoys a close relationship with both Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and the White House. He currently serves as chairman of the Elected Leadership, a title conferred by Hastert.

While Cox is widely recognized for his intellect, the Policy panel has been seen by some leaders and other GOP Conference members as having relatively little clout during his reign as chairman.

As one leadership aide put it, Portman could make the Policy Committee “a more effective organization.”

No such shuffle will occur, however, until the fate of the Homeland Security Committee is decided.

Meeting a requirement laid out in the statute that created the panel, the Homeland Security panel will submit an official recommendation on its future today to the Rules Committee, which in turn will advise GOP leaders in the coming months on whether Homeland Security should be abolished or made permanent, and whether it should be given more substantive jurisdiction.

“We are presenting a reasoned, well-thought-out proposal which will streamline oversight of the Department of Homeland Security, allowing both DHS and Congress to better protect America from terrorism in the future,” said Homeland Security panel spokesman Ken Johnson.

For his part, Hastert wants to see Homeland Security become a permanent select panel — a status presently conferred on the Intelligence Committee. That status allows the Speaker alone to determine membership.

While it is unclear whether Homeland Security’s own proposal will call for it to remain a select panel, a source close to the committee said that the report would ask for it to be made permanent and to be given relevant jurisdiction over Homeland Security issues.

Jurisdiction will likely be the most difficult question to sort out, since Homeland Security’s current lack of substantive authority is seen as the main reason it has been unable to accomplish more legislatively since it was created earlier this Congress.

The very existence of Homeland Security has drawn opposition from some high-profile members on its own roster, including Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas), and Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska).

The fact that the committee roster is stocked with chairmen of other committees who aggressively seek to prevent Homeland Security from encroaching on their turf has so far stymied the panel’s work.

Even if the GOP leadership agreed with those chairmen that Congressional oversight would be better off if the Homeland Security panel were abolished altogether, several Republican lawmakers suggested that, from a public relations standpoint, it would be politically foolish for the leadership to do away with the panel at a time when security issues are on voters’ minds.

If Hastert and other leaders decide to make Homeland Security a permanent select panel, the chairmen of other committees could seek to keep their slots. Another option would be for the chairmen to move off the committee but to have more junior members of each committee that is impacted take their places.

While Hastert chose to stock Homeland Security with chairmen, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has mostly filled out the Democratic roster with rank-and-file lawmakers.

With current ranking member Jim Turner (D-Texas) set to retire, Pelosi has committed to elevating Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) to the top spot on the committee in the next Congress, according to a Democratic leadership aide. Thompson is the No. 2 Democrat on the panel.

Erin P. Billings contributed to this report.