Hawley’s departure from Armed Services draws speculation

Retribution or magnanimity? Accounts differ on why Missouri senator left desirable panel

Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley took office in January 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley took office in January 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted February 8, 2023 at 7:44pm

Corrected 9:08 a.m. Feb. 9 | Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley was booted from his perch on the powerful Armed Services Committee last month as retribution for delaying the confirmation of numerous Defense Department nominees last year, and for his role in challenging Mitch McConnell’s hold as the chamber’s top Republican, sources tell CQ Roll Call.

When the Armed Services panel announced its roster last week, Hawley’s name was conspicuously absent from the list — a surprise move that came directly from McConnell’s office, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter. The sources, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the decision, come from both sides of the aisle.

Hawley’s removal, the circumstances of which have not been previously reported, stemmed in part from his involvement in attempting to postpone the Senate GOP’s leadership elections in November to allow for a long-shot bid from Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., to replace McConnell as Republican leader.

Spokespersons for Hawley and McConnell both denied the claim.

Hawley’s spokesperson said the senator had voluntarily stepped down from Armed Services, which left room for his newly elected colleague from Missouri, Republican Eric Schmitt, to join the committee.

“I can confirm Senator Hawley’s explanation: He voluntarily gave up his seat on the committee. Any claim to the contrary is false,” said a spokesperson for McConnell.

Early in the 118th Congress, Schmitt sought a waiver to be seated on the Judiciary Committee, along with his fellow Missourian Hawley, but was unsuccessful.

Leadership challenge

In November, Hawley joined Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas in the effort to delay the GOP leadership vote.

“I don’t know why Senate GOP would hold a leadership vote for the next Congress before this election is finished,” Hawley said in a tweet. “We have a runoff in #GASenate — are they saying that doesn’t matter? Don’t disenfranchise @HerschelWalker.”

Ultimately, the vote was not delayed, and McConnell easily defeated Scott.

Earlier this month, Scott blamed McConnell for pulling him and Lee off the Commerce Committee as payback for his bid to replace McConnell.

“He didn’t like that I opposed him because I believe we have to have ideas, fight over ideas. And so, he took Mike Lee and I off the committee,” Scott told Kaitlan Collins on “CNN This Morning.”

Unlike Scott, Hawley did not attribute his removal from the Armed Services panel to McConnell.

“Nobody removed Josh from any committees. Josh decided to remain on the Judiciary and Homeland Security committees, and allowed fellow Missourian Eric Schmitt to take his seat on Armed Services so he could move to the Energy Committee,” said Hawley spokesperson Abigail Marone.

Democrats’ 51-49 Senate majority in the 118th Congress meant that Republicans lost seats on committees compared with the previous Congress, which had a 50-50 split. And senators routinely change committee assignments at the start of a new Congress.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has included a senator from Missouri as a member for more than a dozen years. Hawley joined the committee as a freshman senator in 2019.

Schmitt’s seat on the panel will continue Missouri’s streak of representation on the sought-after committee.

Several military installations, including Fort Leonard Wood and Whiteman and Air Force base, are located in Missouri, as well as a Boeing Co. aircraft manufacturing facility. Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and Scott Air Force Base in Illinois are close to Missouri.

Multiple holds

Hawley’s removal was also spurred by his repeated objections to attempts to quickly confirm DOD nominees for the better part of the past year, the sources said.

Hawley said in July that his objections — which hold Pentagon nominees in limbo, unable to receive the confirmation vote needed to begin work — were a way for him to pressure SASC Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., to hold public hearings on the August 2021 Abbey Gate attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, and because he could not convince the White House to “stop their cover-up of the events at the gate, and the role they played.”

But Reed pushed back at the time, saying his panel has held three classified hearings on Afghanistan since the attack, and two unclassified hearings.

Reed also pointed to several provisions in the fiscal 2022 NDAA that mandate briefings from the Pentagon on Afghanistan, and a creation of a commission to study the entirety of the war. That commission is expected to soon begin its work, which will take three years.

Hawley currently serves on the Judiciary, Homeland Security, Energy and Natural Resources, and Small Business committees.

This report has been corrected to reflect which states Fort Leavenworth and Scott Air Force Base are in.