VA Committee Republicans eye top spot as Roe heads for exit

At least three House Republicans are considering bids to succeed Roe when he retires at the end of the year

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., left, and ranking member Phil Roe, R-Tenn., talk before a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and House Veterans’ Affairs Committee joint hearing in March of 2019. At least three Republicans may seek Roe's position when he retires at the end of the year.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., left, and ranking member Phil Roe, R-Tenn., talk before a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and House Veterans’ Affairs Committee joint hearing in March of 2019. At least three Republicans may seek Roe's position when he retires at the end of the year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted March 2, 2020 at 3:40pm, Updated March 3, 2020 at 5:03pm

Corrected Tuesday 5:03 p.m. | At least three House Republicans are considering bids to succeed Tennessee’s Phil Roe as the top Republican on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee when he retires at the end of the year.

Party rules don’t require the steering committee to make chairman and ranking member appointments based on seniority, which widens the field for Roe’s replacement. But the rules do prevent lawmakers from wielding two gavels at the same time.

Another unwritten rule also prohibits members from chairing a full committee while also serving on a separate “A” committee — a designation for the chamber's most powerful panels such as Appropriations, Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means.

That places Florida’s Gus Bilirakis, the committee’s most senior GOP member whom Roe jumped over for the chairmanship in 2017, in a tough spot. Bilirakis, who is ranking member of the Veterans' Affairs Economic Opportunity Subcommittee, declined to seek the chairmanship back then due to his work on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

He would face the same decision this time for the ranking member title, and said he hasn’t yet come to a decision.

“I’m leaving the door open,” he told CQ Roll Call.

Bilirakis would face competition from more junior lawmakers like Michigan’s Jack Bergman, a second-term congressman and the highest-ranking military officer ever elected to Congress.

“Yes, most positively yes,” he told CQ Roll Call when asked if he was running for the slot.

The former Marine Corps lieutenant general served nearly four decades — including as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam — before retiring in 2009. Bergman is the ranking member of the Veterans' Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee and also is on the House Armed Services Committee.

Fellow Marine Corps veteran Mike Bost of Illinois said he is also “leaning pretty heavily” toward seeking the position. Bost is currently the top Republican on the Veterans' Affairs Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee and also is on the Agriculture and the Transportation and Infrastructure committees.

“Let me tell you, one of the best committees to serve on has been the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, especially as a veteran myself,” he said.

Other committee members, including Health Subcommittee ranking member Neal Dunn of Florida, are staying out of the race.

“I have been talking to leadership and I think there’s another path actually for me,” Dunn told CQ Roll Call, adding that being considered would still be an honor.

Dunn declined to elaborate, but he also is on the Agriculture Committee, where he is the ranking member on the Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research Subcommittee.

Veterans’ Affairs Technology Modernization Subcommittee ranking Republican Jim Banks of Indiana, meanwhile, said he hasn’t completely ruled out running but is “pursuing other things.” He also is on the Armed Services and the Education and Labor committees.

Roe, a doctor and an Army veteran, exceeded his own self-imposed five-year term limit when he ran for reelection in 2018. He reasoned at the time that he had work left to do as chairman of the VA Committee, but Republicans lost control of the House that year, handing the committee gavel to California Democrat Mark Takano. Still, Roe helped shepherd key legislation through Congress in his final term, including a massive overhaul of the VA’s community care program.

“I’m sorry to see him go,” Bergman said. "He’s a heck of a leader.”

Correction: This report was revised to correctly reflect Rep. Mike Bost's committee assignments.