Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., could be next Intelligence Committee leader. (jeffmiller.house.gov)
WASHINGTON — House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers shocked Washington Friday by announcing he will leave Congress, setting off speculation that Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., will take the gavel.
The Michigan Republican says he will bow out next January to start a radio show focused on national security and conservative issues for Cumulus. “I believe in being a conservative media you have to move the ball forward,” Rogers said, adding: “That voice is missing.”
Rogers was listed at No. 21 in Defense News’ 2013 edition of the “100 Most Influential People in US Defense” list.
Lawrence Korb, a former Pentagon official now at the Center for American Progress, said Rogers decision to leave Congress appears one rooted in “how hard it is to get anything done.”
“It’s got to be, partly, what the Hell are you getting done there?” Korb asked. “It’s not like you’re really accomplishing anything.”
With Rogers already eying his talk-radio career, attention quickly turned to who would follow Rogers as chairman of the high-profile House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas is technically next in line. But he also is the vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, losing the chairman race several years ago by a single vote.
Congressional aides and defense-sector sources say his focus is on succeeding retiring Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., as House Armed Services Committee chairman.
“Thornberry wants HASC,” one defense industry lobbyist who has ties to House Republicans told Defense News. “Jeff Miller [is] likely to get intel chair.”
A spokeswoman for Thornberry made clear he will seek the HASC gavel next year.
“I was surprised and disappointed to learn that Mike Rogers has decided to leave Congress,” Thornberry told Defense News in a statement. “The leadership he has given the Intelligence Committee, and especially the good working relationship he has fostered with [Ranking Member] Dutch Ruppersberger, have benefited U.S. national security.
“While chairing the House Intelligence Committee is an important job, my focus for the future is strictly on the House Armed Services Committee, where I hope to follow Buck McKeon as chairman,” Thornberry said.
It marked perhaps the first time the Texas member has stated unequivocally that he wants to be the next HASC chairman.
Notably, McKeon has taken the unusual step of endorsing Thornberry to succeed him.
Korb said the Intelligence Committee chairman “has a lot more power these days.” But, for a congressman from Texas, “when it comes to taking care of your own constituents, HASC is more important to you.”
Two congressional sources indicated Miller is interested in the Intelligence Committee gavel, with both saying he is viewed as having more expertise than other possible candidates.
A senior Miller aide said his boss is indeed interested.
“Congressman Miller believes the world continues to be a very dangerous place,” Dan McFaul, Miller’s chief of staff and press secretary, told Defense News on Friday. “If the speaker places the confidence in him and asks him to oversee the Intelligence Committee, he would be honored to do so.”
When asked about when House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, would choose a new Intelligence chairman, a spokesman wrote only: “Today is about celebrating Chairman Rogers’ service.”
“Jeff distinguished himself on the Armed Services Committee as someone who understands the needs of the warfighter and the importance of timely and accurate intelligence,” Boehner said in a February 2009 statement after naming Miller to the Intelligence Committee. “Now as a member of the Intelligence Committee, he will continue to fight hard to give America’s intelligence agencies the tools and authorities needed to stay ahead of terrorists and foreign enemies.”
The defense lobbyist said Miller is viewed by his GOP conference colleagues as well-suited for the position.
“He’d be great and makes the most sense. Long time member of HASC, chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee, and has a major military installation in his district,” the lobbyist said. “He is steeped in national security unlike other possible contenders.”
Sources mentioned Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., as another possible contender.
Miller is perhaps best known on Capitol Hill for his work on military veterans issues. He also gained increased credibility for a testy exchange last year with Secretary of State John Kerry during a hearing over the Obama administration’s plans in Syria.
He is a member of the House Special Operations Caucus, and has appeared on national news programs — something Rogers has done more and more as the panel’s profile has risen because intelligence issues have been front-burner ones during the Obama era.
Miller opposed US military action in that country’s bloody civil war even after Bashar al-Assad’s forces used chemical weapons. He pressed Kerry on why Democrats delayed a vote in the Senate on a use-of-force resolution.
“Because they don`t have the votes, Mr. Secretary. That`s why they delayed,” Miller said. “You know that.”
“Actually, no, I don`t,” Kerry replied, prompting Miller to say, “Well, I do.”
Kerry shot back: “Well, I`m glad you know something.”
When the secretary told Miller “I`m trying to give you an answer,” Miller fired back this headline-grabbing barb: “This not the Senate. We do not filibuster here.”
Miller also has been an outspoken critic of the Obama administration’s handling of the attack that left four US diplomatic officials dead in Libya. At one hearing, he asked a senior FBI official to tell lawmakers “when somebody will be held responsible for the murders in Benghazi.”
He also has questioned whether the Obama administration has over-politicized intelligence issues.
A review of hearing transcripts reveals a questioning style that often is broad and covers many issues. For instance, during a February Intelligence Committee hearing on threats facing the United States, Miller peppered Director of National Intelligence James Clapper with a series of questions on Afghanistan’s future, US policy toward Syria, and whether former Booz Allen contractor Edward Snowden has given Russian officials classified US information.
He appears to oppose major changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which was established in the late 1970s to provide judicial oversight of classified US intel activities.
Miller also opposes a complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan — the so-called “zero option” reportedly being mulled anew inside Obama’s White House.
“Unfortunately, I think if we withdraw too quickly, we’re going to give up a lot of the ground that’s been gained by our men and women, those that have given their lives and shed their blood,” Miller said during a Fox Business Network interview last July. “Certainly, a lot of this country’s treasure has gone to provide the Afghan people the opportunity to stand on their own two feet, and certainly, to do it too early I think is a huge mistake.”