Republican members vie for education panel post

Rep. Mike Castle (Del.) has told House Republican leaders that he won’t commit to forgoing a Senate run if they appoint him to be the top GOP member on the Education and Labor Committee.

A handful of Republican members on the committee are vying for the slot that opened on Wednesday when Rep. Buck McKeon (Calif.), the panel’s ranking member, was selected to fill the top GOP spot on the Armed Services Committee.

Castle, a senior member of the panel, told The Hill that Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) asked him where he was on a decision to run for the Senate and if becoming the ranking Republican would be a factor. Castle said he told Boehner that it was a factor, but not a “controlling” factor.

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“They are interested in me staying in the House, but [giving me the top spot] won’t be a commitment I’m going to make,” Castle said.

According to Castle confidants, the Delaware Republican is genuinely undecided on whether to run for Vice President Biden’s former Senate seat. The state’s only House member concedes that he has done minimal fundraising thus far to compete in a race that may include Biden’s son Beau.

Regardless of whether he decides to run for the upper chamber, Castle emphasized that he will make that decision on his own terms, ranking member or not. He says he “won’t make any promises.”

But Castle noted that Boehner did not offer him the Republican perch if he promised to stay in the House.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has targeted Castle’s seat this cycle. Unless he retires, some political analysts expect Castle to face a challenging race in 2010 — whether it is for the House or the Senate.

Castle, one of the GOP’s few remaining centrists in the House, has been at odds with his party on a range of issues, including children’s health insurance and stem cell research.

At this point, it is unclear if Castle will make a formal pitch to the Republican Steering Committee next week when it meets to select McKeon’s successor. Those in contention, in order of seniority, include Tom Petri (Wis.), Castle, Mark Souder (Ind.), Judy Biggert (Ill.), Joe Wilson (S.C.), John Kline (Minn.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.).

Though Petri, Souder and Castle have said they were interested in the position, Wilson and Kline are the only candidates who have told leaders that they are “all in,” meaning that they would give a formal presentation to the 28-member committee.

“The race is wide-open,” according to a GOP leader.

Sources tell The Hill that Republican leaders are concerned that the centrist GOP members next in line behind McKeon may stray too far from the GOP reservation when tough issues come before the committee, which is chaired by liberal Democrat George Miller (Calif.).

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Miller said that he could work well with many of the Republicans in the mix to sit opposite him.

Petri, who challenged Boehner to be chairman of the committee in 1998, has supported the Democrats’ student loan repayment bill, and some have referred to him as a “friend of George,” a reference to Miller.

Kline, a Boehner ally, jumped into the race unexpectedly Tuesday afternoon following McKeon’s victory. He was seen walking into Boehner’s office suites as the Steering Committee members were headed out.

Sources close to Boehner say that Kline is even-keeled and would be a good fit for the position.

The committee has a full plate over the next few months. Issues before the panel include healthcare reform, “card-check” legislation and a reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind law.