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GOP Conference Approves Smith’s Demotion, Fills Committee Openings

The House Republican Conference handed out chairmanships and exclusive committee assignments Thursday morning at a session dominated by talk of the GOP’s first involuntary removal of a chairman since the party took power 10 years ago.

The GOP Steering Committee voted Wednesday night to remove Veterans Affairs Chairman Chris Smith (N.J.) from his post and replaced him with Rep. Steve Buyer (Ind.). The Steering vote was nearly unanimous, according to Republican sources.

Smith, who had wielded the gavel since 2001, is the first Member to lose his job in this fashion since the Conference imposed six-year term limits on chairmen a decade ago.

Smith spoke at Thursday’s Conference meeting and earned a warm ovation from his colleagues, who nonetheless moved to ratify the Steering Committee’s decision, according to sources in attendance.

After the meeting, Smith said he did not regret the way he handled his chairmanship tenure, which was marked by frequent clashes with the GOP leadership over veterans spending.

“I honestly believe that … constructive disagreement is the highest form of loyalty,” Smith said.

The only other chairmanship to formally change hands Thursday was that of the Appropriations Committee. The Conference signed off on Steering’s decision to name Rep. Jerry Lewis (Calif.) to that post ahead of the other two candidates, Reps. Ralph Regula (Ohio) and Hal Rogers (Ky.).

Lewis announced during the meeting that he would hire Hill veteran Frank Cushing to serve as Appropriations staff director. Most recently, Cushing has been a vice president at Cornerstone Government Affairs.

Cushing previously spent several years as clerk and staff director of the Appropriations subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and independent agencies. He also spent nearly 15 years in various Senate staff positions.

Cushing replaces current Appropriations staff director Jim Dyer, who has not announced his future plans.

Lewis told reporters afterward that Republicans were “talking very seriously” about reducing the number of Appropriations subcommittees and shuffling agencies between different panels’ jurisdictions, a proposal floated by Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) last month.

Lewis said he planned to have extensive meetings with new Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) before going forward with any restructuring of the spending panel.

Below the chairman level, Republicans also added a handful of Members to the three most desirable committees. House Democrats went through the same process on their side of the aisle Wednesday.

On Appropriations, three GOP lawmakers have been added to the panel for the 109th Congress: Reps. Denny Rehberg (Mont.), John Carter (Texas) and Rodney Alexander (La.). The Democratic lineup will remain the same.

Joining the Energy and Commerce Committee roster are Republican Reps. Tim Murphy (Pa.), Michael Burgess (Texas) and Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), as well as Democratic Reps. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Jay Inslee (Wash.) and Mike Ross (Ark.).

The third “A” committee, Ways and Means, will add GOP Reps. John Linder (Ga.), Melissa Hart (Pa.), Bob Beauprez (Colo.) and Chris Chocola (Ind.). Also joining the tax-writing panel are Democratic Reps. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), John Larson (Conn.) and Mike Thompson (Calif.).

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