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Meehan’s Departure Leaves Revitalized Subpanel Leaderless

With Rep. Martin Meehan (D-Mass.) announcing his intention to leave the Congress in July, House Democrats are scrambling to fill the chairmanship of the resurrected House Armed Services oversight and investigations subcommittee.

“The university is super lucky, but this is a huge loss to the Congress,” Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) said Tuesday of Meehan’s departure. “He is breaking hearts.”

Last week, the subcommittee kicked off its investigation into the Bush administration’s strategy for training Iraqi security forces. A comprehensive report on the subcommittee’s findings is expected to be ready for the full committee by the end of June.

With national and international attention focused on the U.S. military’s handling of the volatile situation in Iraq, the subpanel’s investigation seemed destined to attract wide interest. At Meehan’s announcement of the probe, he was joined by his Republican counterpart, Rep. Todd Akin (Mo.).

On Tuesday, Meehan told reporters that he will leave in July to become the chancellor at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, his alma mater, if its board of trustees approves his nomination. Meehan was elected to represent his 5th district seat for the eighth time in November.

Democrats are now tasked with selecting a new House Armed Service’s oversight and investigations subcommittee chair.

Of the 30 Democrats who serve on the full committee, the 14 most senior members are either serving as the head of a committee or a subcommittee or, in the case of Meehan and Rep. Bob Brady (D-Pa.), are stepping down. Caucus rules prevent Democrats from heading more than one committee or subcommittee.

While Abercrombie, who is the chairman of the air and land forces subcommittee, would not speculate on who would take over Meehan’s subcommittee chairmanship, he did say that whoever is next in line on the full committee will likely “move over.”

Next in line is Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), who if selected as the chairwoman of the subcommittee, would be the second woman among the current chairmen of House Armed Services subcommittees. Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) chairs the subcommittee on strategic forces.

Once the committee votes to approve a new subcommittee chairman, the chairman of the full committee will report the new slate of subcommittee chairmen to the Democratic House Leadership. If there is no subcommittee chairman selected for a long period after a vacancy emerges, the chairman, pursuant to House Rules, can name a member of that subcommittee to be vice-chair. A vice-chair can preside over his/her subcommittee in the absence of a subcommittee chairman until such time as the chairman is selected by the committee.

Davis’ office did not immediately respond to CongressNow’s request to see if she wold pursue the post. Akin could not be reached for comment.

While Meehan’s role helming the pending investigation could have given him a national podium, those who have followed his career in Massachusetts said that Meehan was much better known at home for his focus on campaign finance reform and other issues.

“Although voters in Massachusetts are worldly and care a lot about war and peace and international affairs, there’s limited interest in the military itself,” said Tufts University political scientist Jeffrey Berry. “Even among those that watch politics closely here, I doubt there are many who know that Meehan sits on Armed Services.”

Louis Jacobson contributed to this report.

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