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Race for IR Chair Gets Early Start

Concerned that the position may open up ahead of schedule, Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) has begun informing his colleagues that he is gunning to be the next chairman of the International Relations Committee.

Current Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) will be forced to surrender the gavel at the end of the 109th Congress. But Burton is making preparations in case Hyde leaves before then to join the diplomatic corps.

“I am going to run for it,” Burton said Tuesday. “There’s talk that Henry might have a shot at being ambassador to the Vatican. If that happens he may leave early and I want to be ready.”

House Republican sources said they believed it was highly unlikely the Holy See post would go to Hyde, who is widely expected to retire from Congress at the end of this term. But regardless of when the chairman leaves, Burton’s campaigning suggests the race to replace Hyde will be highly competitive.

In addition to Burton, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) has also made her interest in the International Relations position clear. According to House Republican sources, other potential candidates include GOP Reps. Jim Leach (Iowa), Chris Smith (N.J.) and Ed Royce (Calif.).

Burton said he had already begun talking to Steering Committee members about his interest in the job. He said the focus of his pitch would be his wealth of experience as a chairman.

Burton has helmed several different International Relations subcommittees over the years, and he also put in six controversial years at the helm of the Government Reform Committee.

Burton’s tenure at that committee is remembered by his fellow Republicans in mixed terms. While he won plaudits for being aggressive and advancing conservative causes, Burton also drew a fair amount of negative press coverage and was sometimes considered overzealous by his colleagues.

After losing that gavel in 2002 due to term limits, Burton focused on a Government Reform subcommittee chairmanship and then, this year, on his gavel at the IR subcommittee on the Western hemisphere.

Ros-Lehtinen, meanwhile, said she would also emphasize her experience as well as her credentials as a loyal party member.

“I’ve been a good Republican. I’ve contributed to a lot of candidates,” she said.

Like Ros-Lehtinen, Royce could have seniority problems. He is currently eighth on the panel roster, though that won’t stop him from pursuing the gavel.

“He is actively pursuing the chairmanship,” said Royce spokeswoman Julianne Smith.

Burton is currently fourth on the panel roster behind Hyde, Leach and Smith, who serves as vice chairman. Ros-Lehtinen is sixth, a position that could make her quest more difficult, but certainly not impossible.

“Dan is a formidable candidate and he is more senior than me,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Sometimes the Republican leadership goes by seniority and sometimes they don’t. I’m going to fight for it.”

Smith has long been one of the most active members of the committee and has been searching for a new role since he lost his chairmanship of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee earlier this year to Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.). Given that he lost that gavel because he angered the Republican leadership, it is unclear whether there is anything he can do to change Steering Committee members’ perceptions of him before the International Relations position comes up for a vote.

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