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Term Limits Heat Up GOP Gavel Contests

With nearly half of all House Republican committee chairmanships up for grabs next year, Members have started maneuvering to raise their profiles ahead of a round of spirited gavel races.

At least two decisions seem to be already made: Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) is a lock to lead the Financial Services Committee, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (Va.) will most likely take the helm of the Judiciary Committee.

But other committee races look to be competitive.

Headlining the contests is the scramble for the gavel of the Homeland Security Committee. Current Chairman Peter King (N.Y.) has yet to announce whether he will ask for a waiver to allow him to remain past his term limit.

“I think all of us should wait until the election is over, see if we are re-elected, and then see what the Speaker’s intentions are about chairmanships,” King said in a statement.

The Republican Steering Committee would have to approve a waiver, but it has done so in few instances. If King is forced to step down, a crowded field of subcommittee chairmen awaits to take his seat.

Rep. Candice Miller (Mich.) is anything but a lock for the top spot. She would be the only woman leading a committee, but she would be the fourth Michigander.

Reps. Michael McCaul (Texas) and Mike Rogers (Ala.) on the panel, who both are more senior than Miller, are actively seeking the chairmanship too, and GOP aides said the race is too close to handicap.

“I believe my qualifications and experience both on the Committee and prior to entering the Congress would well serve the Congress and the country,” McCaul said in a statement.

“The main priority for our Republican team is to win in November and that’s my focus right now. I am certainly interested in the position, and if chosen would be deeply honored to chair this important committee. But deciding who is best qualified for the job is a matter left for later discussions among Leadership and Steering Committee members,” Rogers said in a statement.

Miller declined to comment.

Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (Fla.) may also seek a waiver, his spokesman indicated, but it is unlikely he would get one.

“If you open that can worms, you have to open it for everyone,” one GOP committee member said.

Rep. Bill Shuster (Pa.) is waiting in the wings to assume the job, and the committee member said, “Shuster is kind of a lock for that one.”

The top spot on the Foreign Affairs Committee will be vacant next year, as Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), the only Hispanic-American and Republican chairing a panel, is term-limited and will not seek a waiver.

Rep. Ed Royce (Calif.), a vice chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, is the top candidate for the post, GOP aides said.

“Royce is an experienced and proven leader on the full range of issues facing the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He looks forward to making his case to his colleagues after the election,”   spokeswoman Audra McGeorge said.

Rep. Chris Smith (N.J.) is also seeking the position, but his party loyalty has previously been called into question. He was stripped of the chairmanship of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee in the 109th Congress, when he bucked leadership and called for increases in veterans’ health care spending.

“That’s not forgotten,” a GOP leadership aide said. “Would it be an issue that happens again? That’s something you’d certainly see leadership asking.”

Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (Texas), who is term-limited in his current job, is looking to head the Science, Space and Technology Committee, a panel he said was his first choice when he entered Congress because of his background studying astronomy and physics in college.

“I am proud of our work on the Judiciary Committee. If given the opportunity, I hope to be just as active of a Chairman of the Science & Technology Committee,” he said in a statement. “If America is going to remain competitive in today’s global economy, we need to remain innovative and focused on exploring science and expanding new technologies.”

And though GOP aides said Smith is the frontrunner, he has competition, and the race is getting heated.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.) is looking to return to the top of the committee he chaired from 1997 to 2001.

Sensenbrenner also chaired the Judiciary Committee from 2001 to 2007, and he said Smith is only the lead candidate because “he’s been tooting his horn more.”

“The point is I’ve been a committee chairman for 10 years,” Sensenbrenner said. “The Science Committee was on the map for the six years between 1994 and 2000. … It kind of has slipped since then in terms of viewing it as an important committee and I want to bring it back.”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (Calif.) is also trying for the gavel. GOP aides said he is viewed as a loose cannon, however, which could diminish his chances. But Rohrabacher said the Steering Committee should choose someone with creative ideas, rather than a “go-along, get-along type of personality.”

“It’s only fair to give someone else who hasn’t had a chance at being chairman a shot at it,” he said.

As Roll Call previously reported, the Steering Committee will have its work cut out in choosing the next head of the Budget Committee should chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) become vice president or choose not to return to the committee.

Budget Vice Chairman Scott Garrett (N.J.) and Rep. John Campbell (Calif.) have already announced that they intend to go for the gavel, and aides point to Reps. Jason Chaffetz (Utah) and Tom Price (Ga.) as contenders as well, if they want the job.

Then there are the Speaker-appointed chairmanships that are likely to turn over: Rules, Ethics and House Administration.

Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) is considering Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (Wash.) and NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) for the Rules Committee job.

Though aides said that Hastings may have the right demeanor for the position – he is a previous Ethics chairman – they note that Sessions has proved himself at the NRCC, so leaders want to find a place for him.

If Hastings does indeed move to Rules, the Natural Resources gavel could be returned to former Chairman Don Young (Alaska) or the Steering Committee could tap new blood in Rep. Rob Bishop (Utah). Both declined to comment.

Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner (Ala.) said in an interview that he will not return to the helm of that panel. McCaul is the next in seniority on the committee, but  Boehner could tap anyone for the thankless job, or at least anyone who is willing to take it.

Though House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren (Calif.) is not term-limited, he is in significant re-election trouble, making him the only sitting chairman who is in a tossup race.

Physician Ami Bera (D) is mounting his second challenge to Lungren in as many election cycles in a redrawn Sacramento-area district that is friendlier to Democrats than it was in 2010.

Rep. Gregg Harper (Miss.) is next in line, but he is running for Republican Conference secretary. It remains unclear who else the Speaker would consider for the committee that has oversight of campus operations.

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