WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee is welcoming a host of new faces in the new congressional session and losing some familiar faces.
As many as eight seats on the military panel — nearly one-third of the committee membership — could change before its next meeting, even with the Senate remaining in Republican control.
The official committee assignments for Republicans, released by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Thursday evening, has five GOP committee members leaving in the 116th Congress. (Politico broke the news earlier in the day, based on a draft roster it obtained.)
That includes Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of the Pentagon’s most vocal allies and one of the panel’s longest-serving members.
Graham, who joined the panel in 2003, leaves as he is expected to ascend to the role of chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He is also expected to retain the gavel of the powerful Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, as well as remain a member of the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.
South Carolina, which has a large military presence, will lose representation on the panel as Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., also departs — alongside GOP Sens. Ted Cruz, of Texas; Ben Sasse, of Nebraska; and Jon Kyl, of Arizona.
Senate Democrats have already announced three new members for the Senate Armed Services Committee. Sens. Tammy Duckworth, a combat-wounded Army veteran from Illinois; Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Doug Jones, of aerospace powerhouse Alabama, will replace three departing Democratic lawmakers.
“When I was first elected last year, and took a look at [Redstone] Arsenal and all of the bases, it was just stunning, everything that’s going on,” Jones said. “I’m looking forward to carrying on a great tradition of Alabama senators on that committee and doing all I can to help my state.”
Committee turnover happens every two years on Capitol Hill, as elections force some lawmakers out of office and open new opportunities for others. But changing eight seats on the Senate Armed Services Committee — long seen as a powerful pulpit on national security issues — is an unusual level of upheaval.
In 2015, only five seats on the panel turned over. In 2013, when the Senate last changed parties, six members changed.
The shifts come as the committee, led by Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., must navigate a divided Congress, President Donald Trump’s indecision on a defense top line for 2019, Trump’s national security views and likely the confirmation process for a new defense secretary. Trump has also raised new questions for the committee with recent pronouncements he would pull the U.S. military out of Syria and Afghanistan.
“What’s important and a mainstay on the committee is the bipartisanship and the willingness to work together — not always agree, but work together,” said the panel’s ranking member, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., adding that Inhofe has been continuing that tradition.
The committee will add five incoming Republican senators: former U.S. Reps. Martha McSally, of Arizona; Kevin Cramer, of North Dakota; Marsha Blackburn, of Tennessee, as well as former Florida Gov. Rick Scott and former Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley.
With McSally, who Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey appointed to replace Kyl in McCain’s seat after she lost a Senate bid, Congress retains an advocate of the A-10 Warthog — a platform McSally piloted in the Air Force.
Democrats are losing three senior members. Scott bested Sen. Bill Nelson, formerly the SASC’s No. 2 Democrat; Hawley beat Sen. Claire McCaskill, a senior SASC member and top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee; and Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, the top Democrat on the Strategic Forces subpanel lost to incoming Sen. Mike Braun.
The panel will also see a large proportion of women, veterans and female veterans.
“Whether they’re a man or a woman, I just want them to dig in and drill down on the tough issues we have — and meet the security needs that we meet as a nation,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., the chair of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee. “Any profession, any gender, any race, any geographic area brings diversity, which is always a strength."
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.