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House GOP Leaders to Create Select Committee on Homeland Security

House Republicans plan to create a Select Committee of Homeland Security on Tuesday, when lawmakers return for the first day of the 108th Congress.

The move came as a last-minute GOP addition to the rules package that will be offered. It surprised some lawmakers who believed GOP leaders would put off creating an authorizing committee for the massive new department until well into the legislative year, if not the next session.

Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), however, believed the new panel was necessary in order to conduct an orderly oversight process for the new Cabinet department. The chairmen and ranking members of all the committees with jurisdiction would comprise the committee, as well as other lawmakers yet to be determined. The Speaker would then appoint a chairman.

“It’s crunch time when it comes to creating the department and the Speaker believes it makes sense to have a select committee,” said Hastert spokesman John Feehery.

The committee will coordinate oversight of the department and authorize legislation pertaining to it. But not all the oversight hearings will be held by the new select committee, according to one leadership source.

“If it involves transportation exclusively, then the Transportation Committee would handle that. If it is interdisciplinary, than it would fall to the select committee to handle it,” the source said, adding that the panel could become a full standing committee in the 109th Congress, if all goes smoothly.

White House officials, along with Hastert, have long supported the idea of creating a separate authorizing committee to avoid having Homeland Security Secretary-designate Tom Ridge spend a majority of his time testifying before all of the committees that claim some jurisdiction over the issue.

But GOP leadership aides acknowledge that struggles within the Republican leadership team provided at least some impetus for establishing the committee the first week Congress returns.

The House GOP Steering Committee is struggling to find a soft landing spot for Rep. Tom Davis (Va.), the outgoing chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee who led the GOP to victory last fall.

Davis has his sights set on winning the gavel of the Government Reform panel.

But several members of the leadership team, as well as a conservative faction of the Conference, believe Davis would be too sympathetic to the concerns of his constituents, many whom belong to federal government unions.

Davis is vying for the position along with GOP Policy Committee Chairman Chris Cox (Calif.) and Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.). The moderate Shays has the most seniority on the panel, although most GOP leadership aides believe he knocked himself out of the running by leading a discharge petition pushing campaign finance reform last year.

Cox is next although he has been on leave from the panel. Davis is four slots behind Cox, but is determined to win the top spot.

According to several GOP aides, House Republican leaders believe Davis could be satisfied with chairing the Homeland Security panel because the new department will have such a significant effect on his constituents.

Under that scenario, Cox would win the Government Reform gavel and current GOP Leadership Chairman Rob Portman (Ohio) would run for the Policy chairmanship Cox is leaving behind.

“If the Policy Committee chairmanship comes open, then Congressman Portman would take a very serious look at running for the position,” said Portman spokesman Jim Morrell.

According to several leadership sources, Davis has rejected that idea out of hand. His spokesman, David Marin, declined to comment on the matter.

Still, several lawmakers’ names have been circulating for months as leading candidates to chair an authorizing committee on homeland security, including Portman and Reps. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and John Shadegg (R-Ariz.).

If Davis remains intransigent, leadership sources described a variety of scenarios that may play out. Under one, Davis could receive the Government Reform post while Cox moves to Homeland Security. Portman could then run for the Policy Committee slot. But Cox, according to GOP sources, is also digging in his heels and does not want the Homeland Security post and would want to keep his Policy Committee position instead.