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Hopefuls Eye Cox Gavel

While a handful of contests are already under way for committee chairmanships in the 110th Congress, the nomination of Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) to head the Securities and Exchange Commission has sparked an unanticipated race for the Homeland Security Committee gavel.

Cox was Homeland’s first chairman, taking the gavel when the panel was created in the previous Congress and shepherding it through the sometimes turbulent process of becoming a permanent committee with real clout.

The House Republican Steering Committee has not yet scheduled a meeting to consider Cox’s replacement and is unlikely to do so until the time frame for Cox’s confirmation by the Senate and resignation from the House becomes clear.

In the meantime, most potential candidates for the Homeland gavel were holding fire last week until Members returned from recess.

The most intriguing name circulating in Republican circles is that of Rep. Don Young (Alaska), who is second on the Homeland seniority roster and will be term-limited out of the chairmanship of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee next year.

Young is currently embroiled in complicated conference committee negotiations on the massive highway reauthorization bill. If that measure can be cleared in time, Young’s main task in his current job would be over and he could shift his focus to the Homeland gavel.

Young’s office did not return calls seeking comment by press time Friday.

After Young, the Homeland GOP seniority list includes, in order, Reps. Lamar Smith (Texas), Curt Weldon (Pa.), Christopher Shays (Conn.), Peter King (N.Y.) and John Linder (Ga.).

Shays has said he will not run for the gavel, while King is the only candidate who has expressed a clear public desire for the position.

King has already let Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) know of his interest, though he has also made clear that he will not try to vault over any of his colleagues if a more senior lawmaker gets into the race.

“He respects seniority,” said King spokesman Kevin Fogarty.

Smith, meanwhile, is choosing not to discuss his intentions until it is clear that Cox will be confirmed to his new post.

“The Congressman believes that it’s just too early to speculate on since there’s not an opening yet,” said Smith spokesman Blair Jones.

While Smith has allies in the leadership and could mount a strong Homeland bid, he is also a prime candidate to take over the Judiciary Committee gavel in the next Congress and is thought by many Republicans to be more interested in that job.

Weldon, the current Homeland vice chairman, is also taking a wait-and-see approach, though his résumé indicates that Cox’s post would be a natural fit for him.

“Before he makes any significant comments on any potential chairmanship he wants to talk to the Speaker,” said Russ Caso, Weldon’s chief of staff.

Weldon is known on the Hill as a staunch advocate for firefighters and other first-responders, and he was a co-founder of the Homeland Security Caucus.

The Pennsylvanian is also a senior Member of the Armed Services Committee, though he was conspicuously denied the chairmanship of that panel in 2001 in favor of then-Rep. Bob Stump (R-Ariz.).

At seventh on the seniority list, Linder would have a steeper hill to climb than the other candidates. Once seen as a possible contender for the Rules Committee gavel, he is now off that panel and focused on his work on the Ways and Means Committee. Linder’s office did not return a call seeking comment.

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