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A Quiet Campaign for a Secret Committee

Intelligence Panel Race Is Anything but Public

While most candidates for top positions on House committees campaign openly, two House Republicans seeking to chair the Intelligence panel have taken a stealthy approach befitting the committee they both want to head.

Lawmakers vying for chairmanships of Energy and Commerce and Appropriations have written opinion pieces, courted colleagues to sign letters of support and called upon the members of the Republican Steering Committee to ask for their blessings.

But Reps. Mike Rogers (Mich.) and Mac Thornberry (Texas), the top two contenders for Intelligence, have taken much less public routes toward their goal. Neither could be reached for comment.

Of course, they have fewer people to impress.

Unlike most House committees, the Speaker and Minority Leader alone choose the members of the Intelligence Committee — including the chairman and the ranking member.

And despite the recent release of thousands of pages of classified documents by the website WikiLeaks, a spokesman for Speaker-designate John Boehner said the Ohio Republican did not intend to speed up the process of selecting a Republican chairman.

“The Intelligence Committee chair is a crucial position for a variety of reasons,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner. “Boehner is working on those decisions and will make an announcement as soon as a careful and proper review process can be concluded.”

Boehner is expected to make a decision on the committee before the end of the week, according to one GOP aide familiar with issue.

Both sides of the committee will likely see a change in leadership, according to aides. Democrats serving on the Intelligence Committee are usually limited to two terms, which means that if outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — soon to be Minority Leader — adheres to this rule, Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) will have reached the end of his term at the conclusion of the 111th Congress.

Outgoing ranking member Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who is retiring at the end of the 111th Congress, said in a recent interview that both lawmakers have a strong résumé.

Boehner “has good qualified candidates to choose from,” he said. Hoekstra would not say whom he was supporting for the position but said he would offer his opinion to Boehner if he asks.

One GOP aide agreed that the lawmakers are equally qualified to lead the committee and said the decision is ultimately in Boehner’s hands.

“Both Mac and Mike have been members of the committee for a while and work the issues down there,” the aide said. “It will all come down to Mr. Boehner.”

Thornberry has a good working relationship with Boehner, the aide said, adding that the Texas Republican has had several conversations with Boehner over issues that are percolating in the committee.

“They stay in pretty good contact,” the aide said.

Boehner asked both Rogers and Thornberry to serve on his National Security Solutions Group to help craft the GOP policies for “national security challenges.” Rogers also was appointed earlier this month to serve on the GOP transition team.

Thornberry has a one-year edge on Rogers in seniority, having been appointed after Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) left to head the CIA in 2004.

One factor that could play a small role in the selection is the balance of state power in the House Republican Conference.  With several Michiganders poised to take gavels in the 112th Congress, paired with the fact Thornberry was passed over for the top Republican slot on the Armed Services Committee in 2009, there could be pressure from some lawmakers to appoint the Texas Republican. 

Both Rogers and Thornberry have long careers and deep ties to the intelligence community. They each have been involved in developing major legislation on intelligence and security policy.

Rogers, a former FBI special agent, is the ranking member on the terrorism subcommittee. Prior to his appointment to the Intelligence Committee, he played a major role in crafting the PATRIOT Act’s provisions on wiretapping and law enforcement provisions.

A far more vocal member than Thornberry, Rogers has been a critic of the Obama administration’s national security policies, specifically its decisions to scrap a European missile defense program and close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Thornberry serves as the ranking member on the Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence.

Thornberry is credited with writing the foundation of the legislation that created the Department of Homeland Security. He authored the initial bill that proposed the creation of a new department to oversee the nation’s security before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Anna Palmer contributed to this report.

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