WASHINGTON — Beyond GOP House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry handing the gavel to the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Smith, expect a major reshuffling in middle management on the panel and on its Senate counterpart.
Where Thornberry, R-Texas, has been a staunch advocate of defense spending increases, Smith has been a critic, particularly on nuclear weapons, who’s promised stricter oversight of overseas military operations. Tuesday’s Democratic victory in the House means leadership swaps will be happening in dozens of the chamber’s committees and subcommittees.
Within the HASC, chairmanships of the Tactical Air & Land and Readiness sub-panels are up for grabs. TAL’s ranking member, Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., is retiring, while Readiness ranking member Rep. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, lost to a primary challenger.
It’s to be determined which Democrats will move up the ranks into those spots and who will take the spots those ascending lawmakers vacate, as panel leadership typically makes those announcements in December or in January, when the new Congress is seated.
Familiar leaders like TAL Chairman Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, are expected to become the sub-panel’s ranking members. Likewise Readiness chairman Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.; Strategic Forces chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and Seapower chairman Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va.
Who fills the shoes of Tsongas and Bordallo will be important for the portfolios they manage—but also as the Pentagon addresses a spate of aviation mishaps and pushes to fix aircraft mission-capable rates.
As roughly a dozen lawmakers from both parties who are departing the HASC, turnover on the committee will be amplified as members opt to leave for other committees, as is typical in a new Congress, and as the Democrats gain new seats on the panel.
Republicans will have to determine who will be their ranking member on the Military Personnel Subcommittee. Its chairman, Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman, lost in a district Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won in 2016.
On the Senate side, Democrats are expected to jockey for leadership positions with the departure of Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill and Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee.
As of Wednesday, it was unclear whether Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, the SASC’s No. 2 Democrat and chairman of its cyber subcommittee, will keep his seat. Some 22,000 votes appear to separate the three-term incumbent from his GOP opponent, Gov. Rick Scott—and Nelson has asked for a recount.
Beyond Sen. Jon Kyl — who is expected to fill the late John McCain’s U.S. Senate seat only until January — there may be other arrivals and departures with the routine reshuffling between committees that’s typical in a new Congress.
Note: The margin of votes between Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and his challenger, Gov. Rick Scott, was updated.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.