Rep. David Dreier's retirement announcement Wednesday set off a race for his coveted Rules Committee chairmanship, but don't expect Members to wrestle for it anytime soon.
Who replaces the long-serving California Republican, his Conference's leader on Rules since 1999, is a decision solely up to Speaker John Boehner. Congressional observers caution that overt lobbying for the position is considered a no-no and that Dreier still wields the gavel through the end of the year.
"I cannot see lobbying for that position as either practical or worthwhile," Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), a member of the panel, said Tuesday, just hours before Dreier announced his retirement on the House floor. "Positioning yourself for this is probably counterproductive."
Instead, Members reserved Wednesday for praising Dreier's years of service and work on the Rules Committee and trade agreements. Speaking on the House floor, a venue he has dominated during contentious and complicated debates, Dreier said the kind of spirited debates he often led are good for the chamber.
"The framers of our Constitution envisioned Congress as a forum for a great clash of ideas," he said. "We all have different, sometimes radically different, views of how to build a better and stronger America. I have always believed that our efforts must be rooted in our pursuit of a free economy, personal freedom, limited government and a strong national defense. Others may take a different view. These differences demand a passionate debate, but that debate must ultimately arrive at consensus."
In a statement, Boehner noted that Dreier "has played a key role in cutting wasteful spending, passing job-creating free trade agreements, strengthening our national defense, and making the House more open to the American people."
"I personally have long considered David to be a good friend and trusted counselor," the Ohio Republican added. "I know these sentiments are shared by members on both sides of the aisle, who respect David's intellect and sense of fairness."
Indeed, the Rules chairman is a close consigliere to the Speaker, whose next selection will no doubt be carefully considered. The two apparent frontrunners are Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas), the second-ranking Republican on the Rules Committee, and Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), a previous member of the panel who is often seen wielding the gavel in the presiding officer's chair during significant floor debates.
"Pete Sessions has been there a long time," Bishop said Tuesday. "Doc Hastings was there a long time and is coming at the end of his cycle over at the committee at which he is, so you've got all sorts of options that are out there."
Sessions, who is chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, has served on Rules for 14 years and is widely considered to have leadership ambitions. After steering the GOP to a landslide win in 2010, Sessions mulled a run against Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) to be Whip but was ultimately dissuaded by Boehner.
In a statement, Sessions said, "It is an honor to serve as Vice Chairman of the Rules Committee under Chairman Dreier — a stalwart defender of Republican principles — and I would consider it a privilege to build upon my 14 years of service on the committee by continuing his legacy of tireless leadership and consummate professionalism."
Hastings was more demure in a statement, praising Dreier as "a skilled leader with a deep, reverent commitment to the institution of the House. I learned a great deal from Chairman Dreier during our service in the House and on the Rules Committee. I will miss him as a colleague and a friend."
The Washington lawmaker served on the Rules Committee from 1997 to 2007, leaving to take the helm of the Natural Resources panel that he now chairs.
A Democratic aide noted that because the party's leader picks the Rules chairman, rarely is there a contentious contest for the top spot, and the only reason for speculation this time around is because Hastings was ahead of Sessions on the panel before he vacated his seat.
"Usually people fall in line," the aide pointed out.
Dreier's retirement decision this year was spurred along when the California Citizens Redistricting Commission carved up his district, leaving him with no clear constituency to represent. The 16-term lawmaker put up dismal fundraising numbers in the fourth quarter of 2011, hauling in just more than $10,000, making his retirement announcement just a matter of time.
The dapper lawmaker's longtime Democratic counterpart on the Rules Committee, Rep. Louise Slaughter, is facing her own redistricting woes as New Yorkers work through their latest iteration of a district map. While she appears to be safe, one Democratic aide cautioned that "she's not out of the woods" until the Empire State's map is finalized. Slaughter has maintained that she is running for re-election this year.
Dreier and Slaughter have had a contentious relationship at times, trading barbs in committee and on the floor over the years. Dreier's polished style is the opposite of Slaughter's brass approach, but on Wednesday, the New Yorker noted her relationship with Dreier as a special one.
"Mr. Dreier and I share the common bond of having led this important and historic committee through some of the House's most important debates," she said.