Hastert Favors Standing Homeland Panel Status

Posted November 19, 2004 at 6:41pm

Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) informed his colleagues last week that he will push to make the Homeland Security Committee a permanent standing panel. If successful, that would pave the way for Rep. Christopher Cox (Calif.) to be succeeded as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee by Rep. John Shadegg (Ariz.).

Cox currently chairs both Policy and Homeland Security. Under Conference rules, Cox could keep both jobs if Homeland were to remain a select committee, but not if it becomes a standing committee.

Hastert told members of the Republican Steering Committee on Thursday night that he wants Homeland to be a standing panel.

Seeing early that the Policy post could come open, Shadegg launched an aggressive campaign in October to round up support for a leadership bid.

Even after Hastert’s announcement, Shadegg continued to make calls and meet with individual Members to secure their backing.

“I remain intensely interested in the job, and if there is a vacancy, I’m anxious to fill it,” Shadegg said Friday. “There are a number of steps yet to occur before there is in fact a vacancy, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”

As of Friday, there appeared to be no other GOP lawmakers preparing to throw their hats in the ring, Members and aides said.

“There were a few people that were whispered about [for the position], but he talked to those candidates and they’re not running,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), an early supporter of Shadegg.

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) agreed, saying Shadegg “jumped on it early.”

Shadegg has made an effort to contact every member of the Conference, including newly elected lawmakers and Members outside of his conservative Republican Study Committee base. But he doesn’t necessarily have every vote locked up yet.

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), the newly chosen co-chair of the moderate Tuesday Group, said he was not yet committed to Shadegg, though he knows of no other candidates who are running for the Policy post.

“I think all our guys are keeping our powder dry,” he said. “We’d like to have [Shadegg] come in and make his pitch.”

If he is successful in his quest, Shadegg would be the only member of the current leadership from the historic Republican class of 1994, which seized both Houses of Congress after years of Democratic majorities.

“He’s a part of our class, and we need to step up into leadership,” said Rep. Zach Wamp (Tenn.), who has expressed his own desire to move up the GOP ladder. “There’s 30 of us that are left, and none of us are in leadership.”

Along with the rest of the leadership, Cox was re-elected to the Policy chairmanship last week. If a switch occurs, it will likely happen in January. But the only sure way for the Policy job to open up is if Hastert is successful in his efforts to transform the Homeland Security Committee — and that’s not yet a sure thing.

Some chairmen of other panels — led by Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) and Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) — have fought mightily to prevent their own committees from losing jurisdiction to Homeland Security. Those critics, and others, are expected to mount a strong campaign against making the committee permanent.

Cox, though, told reporters Friday that he believes “the Speaker’s decision is eminently sound.”

Because so many different panels currently have some jurisdiction over the Homeland Security Department, Cox has been foiled in his efforts to move an authorization bill. He feels that passing such a measure would help Congress strengthen and conduct oversight of an agency that is still experiencing growing pains.

“The question for our leadership is whether [turf] will trump national security,” Cox said.

If Hastert gets his way on Homeland Security, the panel’s size will likely shrink from its current 49-member roster. The committee’s own proposal to the Rules Committee foresees a membership of 29 lawmakers — 16 Republicans and 13 Democrats.

Unless the leadership is willing to grant wholesale waivers of Conference rules, the panel’s change from select to standing status would also require some chairmen of other committees who currently serve on Homeland Security to move off the panel.