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With McHugh Leaving, Trio of Republicans Vie for Top Armed Services Panel Slot

By Ben Pershing
President Obama's decision to nominate Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) to serve as Army Secretary has set off a scramble by a trio of veteran lawmakers to succeed him as the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

With the news of McHugh's appointment only hours old, the three men immediately below him on the Armed Services GOP roster -- Reps. Roscoe Bartlett (Md.), Buck McKeon (Calif.) and Mac Thornberry (Tex.) -- are already positioning themselves to take his place. The winner will be in a key position, playing a vital role as Defense Secretary Robert Gates attempts to transform and modernize the military.

First up, at least in terms of seniority, is Bartlett, whose 6th district covers a wide swath of of northern Maryland, from Frederick in the west to the Susquehanna River in the east. Bartlett's 83rd birthday is tomorrow, and he has been described as "iconoclastic to the point of being quirky" by the Almanac of American Politics. Bartlett ran for the Armed Services post at the start of this Congress but lost to McHugh, and now he hopes to have better luck.

"He is interested and will talk about it with colleagues," said Bartlett spokeswoman Lisa Wright. But right now "he wants the focus to be on Mr. McHugh, as is appropriate."

Next on the committee roster is McKeon, whose interest in the ranking slot is something of a surprise, because he already holds the top GOP job on the Education and the Workforce Committee and would have to give it up if he won the Armed Services post. McKeon did not run for the Armed Services job earlier this year, but now, spokeswoman Lindsey Mask said, "The congressman is giving it serious consideration."

After Bartlett and McKeon comes Thornberry, who also lost to McHugh last time around. "Naturally he's interested in serving any way he can," said Thornberry spokesman George Rasley. "This really isn't the kind of job you campaign for on the front page of the newspaper. It's pretty early in the process."

If the contest were only between Thornberry and Bartlett, it would be relatively easy to handicap. Thornberry is well-liked by the GOP leadership and respected by his colleagues, while Bartlett's age and eccentricity make him a long-shot. But McKeon represents a wild card, as he is one of Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) closest allies in the House and a strong fundraiser for the party.

If McKeon secures the Armed Services slot, that in turn would trigger a race to succeed him as the top Republican on the Education panel.

By Ben Pershing  |  June 2, 2009; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  GOP Leaders , House  
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