Education Seat May Lure Castle Back

Posted June 10, 2009 at 6:38pm

The sudden prospect of rising to the top Republican spot on the House Education and Labor Committee has made Rep. Mike Castle’s (Del.) decision on whether to leave the House more difficult.

“I have been thinking about whether I should run for the House or Senate or not run for anything,— Castle said. “This certainly complicates it.—

Castle told Roll Call that before the position became available, he had nearly ruled out a House run and was trying to decide whether to run for the Senate or retire.

But after Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) approached him and offered to support him for the top spot on the Education panel if he stays in the House, he is rethinking his future in the chamber.

“They would like to see a commitment that I’d run for the House again,— he said. “I’m honored they would even consider me.—

The House Republican Steering Committee appointed Rep. Howard McKeon (R-Calif.) as ranking member of the Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, leaving his former post as the ranking member of the Education and Labor Committee vacant.

McKeon is replacing Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.), who is stepping down to become secretary of the Army.

Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) is the most senior member after McKeon and has not publicly expressed interest in the post. Castle ranks fourth, after Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who plans to leave Congress to run for governor in Michigan.

The Steering Committee could meet as early as next week to choose the new ranking member for the Education panel.

House Republicans have found it particularly hard to hold on to moderate Members like Castle, who is among a handful of center-right lawmakers who are seriously considering leaving to run for a higher office.

Nine House Republicans have already announced plans to run for Senate seats or governorships.

[IMGCAP(1)]“There’s not much [leadership] can offer other than ranking member positions or committee assignments, outside of help with fundraising,— said Carl Forti, president of Black Rock Group and former communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “You can always try to play the loyalty card, but that works better on retirements rather than those running for a Senate seat.—

Even Castle acknowledged that the ranking member seat is not the juiciest enticement to stay in the House. “This is a big decision,— Castle said. “The chairmanship is one thing, but the ranking member [position] is another.—

Since the ability to offer any incentive to stay in the House is a rarity for the minority party, leaders sometime have only intangibles to put on the table.

“The only thing you can offer them is hope,— said former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who retired in 2008.

Davis said that in 2000, during his tenure at the NRCC, with Republicans in the majority, he was surprised at the ability of Democrats to persuade their Members to put off retirement.

Tom O’Donnell, former chief of staff to House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt (Mo.) and managing partner at Gephardt Government Affairs, said the state of the party and the chances of winning back the majority play into whether a Member can be talked into staying in the House.

“I think people thought that we had a pretty good shot at winning the place back [in 2000],— O’Donnell said, a sentiment that helped keep Democrats from retiring that year.

With the GOP chances of winning back the majority slim, Members mulling retirement must decide whether they want to weather life in the minority until the political tide shifts again in their favor.

“The question is, I work hard at this job, do I want it to continue?— Castle asked. “I have not made a decision. I’m very undecided.—

Castle acknowledged he must come to a decision soon out of fairness to the Delaware Republican Party and so he can begin fundraising for a Senate campaign if that’s the course that he decides to take.

“We certainly respect Congressman Castle’s decision, whatever it may be, but should he decide to remain in the House, [NRCC] Chairman [Pete] Sessions [Texas] believes that his intellect and experience would be a valuable asset in helping move the Republican agenda forward,— NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said.

“Mike’s a hot commodity right now. Everybody wants him,— Davis said. “I’m not surprised they are rolling out the red carpet.—