House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., was up for re-election in November. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — US House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon appears poised to announce as soon as Thursday morning that he will not seek a 12th term.
McKeon, a Republican, is up for re-election in November in the California’s 25th District, where he won his last election with 55 percent of the vote. The move likely clears the way for House Armed Services Vice Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, to take the gavel next January.
The committee announced Wednesday that McKeon will address reporters Thursday morning.
Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, confirmed McKeon’s retirement decision in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon — before McKeon was ready to make the announcement himself.
“I would like to thank Chairman McKeon for his over 20 years of service to the people of California and his leadership on the House Armed Services Committee during a very difficult time,” Turner said. He is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee. “I look forward to our continued efforts this year as we work to restore the funding necessary to maintain a strong national defense.
“It has been an honor to serve on the House Armed Services Committee with Chairman McKeon, through his leadership we have ensured that our troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and around the world have the resources and equipment necessary to fight the global war on terrorism and protect our citizens back at home,” Turner said.
Minutes before Turner’s statement, McKeon’s spokeswoman, Alissa McCurley, had a cryptic response to two reports saying her boss had decided against running again.
“I can’t confirm that,” she said. “The congressman will make an announcement when he is ready to make the announcement.”
Notably, she did not deny the reports were false.
McKeon’s retirement decision lit up Twitter on Wednesday afternoon, with two Washington-based publications reporting McKeon had made his decision.
A few hours before Turner’s statement, McKeon played coy about his future.
“I’m sure I will make a decision,” the California Republican told Defense News on Wednesday. “Tonight I’m going to sit down and think seriously about it.”
The retirement was first reported on Tuesday by Jonathan Fleischman, who runs the California political blog “Flash Report.”
“Thursday Rep. @BuckMcKeon will announce his retirement, setting up a @TonyStrickland v @stephentknight showdown,” Fleischman tweeted, adding this hastag: “#LAMEDUCKBUCK.”
Even had he run again and won, McKeon likely would have been term-limited out of his role as HASC chair. He already has endorsed Thornberry as his preferred successor.
His retirement, for the Pentagon and industry, means another old-school congressional hawk — and dependable vote — soon will be off their vote boards. That’s especially true if McKeon is replaced in office by an ultra-conservative tea party politician.
The 25th District is solidly Republican, according to political analysts, meaning that could happen. Tea party members are almost all more isolationist than hawkish establishment Republicans like McKeon, and have pushed for cuts to the Pentagon’s annual budget, which still approaches $500 billion annually even with sequestration.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told Defense News on Wednesday that “if he does [retire], he’s going out with a win.” That’s because McKeon and other congressional hawks fought to secure two years of relief for the Pentagon from the across-the-board cuts.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and House Appropriations Defense subcommittee member Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., already have announced 2014 will their final year in Congress. ■