McKeon nabs head GOP spot on Armed Services Committee

Rep. Buck McKeon (Calif.) on Tuesday won a three-way race to become the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

McKeon, a close ally of Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), will replace Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.), who has been tapped by President Obama to become secretary of the Army. McKeon triumphed in the GOP Steering Committee vote over Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), who had the most seniority in the race.

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Voting counts were not made public, but Steering Committee member and Thornberry ally Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said that McKeon won by a narrow margin over Thornberry.

In the end, however, “it comes down to Boehner’s vote — he gets five [votes on the Steering Committee]; everybody else gets one, except [Minority Whip Eric] Cantor [R-Va.], who gets two,” one panelist said when pressed on the vote breakdown.

The 28-member panel selected Rep. Todd Platts (R-Pa.) to fill McHugh’s soon-to-be-empty seat. Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) had been vying for a spot on the panel.

McKeon will need to give up his post as ranking member of the Education and Labor Committee. The most senior GOP members on that panel are Reps. Tom Petri (Wis.), Pete Hoekstra (Mich.) and Mike Castle (Del.). Some conservatives are wary of giving the ranking member slot to Petri or Castle, who are considered centrists.

It is unclear when the Steering Committee will decide who will be the top GOP lawmaker on the Education panel.

Hoekstra is ranking member on the Intelligence Committee, so he could not nab the spot unless he gave up that perch. Hoekstra, who is running to be the next governor of Michigan, will be leaving at the end of the 111th Congress.

At press time, Hoekstra indicated he is not interested in the top spot on the Education panel. Members who will vie to replace McKeon include Reps. Petri, Castle and Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.).

This is not the first time McKeon has leapfrogged over another Republican with more seniority. In 2006, McKeon was named chairman of what was then called the Education and the Workforce Committee. In that race, Petri had more seniority but McKeon was tapped after Boehner vacated his Education panel chairmanship to become majority leader.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) is expected to get along and work well with his new counterpart, according to Democratic sources.

The ranking member position will be a good chance for McKeon to show his mettle as a defense authorizer and clearly define his leadership style on the panel.

The defense industry was the fourth-largest contributor to McKeon’s reelection in 2008, donating $57,000, according to CQ Moneyline. McKeon’s contributors include the Curtiss-Wright Corp., Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.