Petri’s support would make McKeon, the committee’s third-ranking Republican, the most senior member of the panel to vie for the chairmanship when Boehner’s term runs out at the end of this Congress. House rules require chairmen to step down after three terms. Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the only other committee member with more seniority than McKeon, is already chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
The endorsement would also give McKeon early momentum in his bid for the committee’s top spot.
“I want to be the next chairman of the Education Committee,” McKeon said. “What I need to do is do my job and hope everything comes into place.”
As far as the race is concerned, his job includes raising money for Republican House candidates, supporting leadership and securing commitments from his conference colleagues. “I’m hoping it will be a foregone conclusion that I should be chairman,” McKeon said of his efforts over the next 21 months.
McKeon was an active fundraiser during the last cycle and has gotten off to a quick start this year.
Last cycle, he gave the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) $150,000 and contributed $352,297 to 85 House candidates through his political action committee, 21st Century PAC. So far this cycle he has contributed $363,297 to the NRCC, according to politicalmoneyline.com, more than all but 12 other members of the House GOP.
Most of those members who have contributed more than McKeon are committee chairmen or in leadership. McKeon’s early totals, in fact, earned him a mention and subsequent applause during a recent conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club, according to staff present.
In addition to his fundraising, McKeon was also instrumental in developing the NRCC’s Strategic Taskforce for Organizing and Mobilizing People (STOMP) during the 2002 election cycle. He then chaired that effort for the NRCC executive board during the last cycle.
STOMP, in close coordination with the Republican National Committee (RNC), eventually recruited 60,000 volunteers from congressional offices across the country to participate in get-out-the-vote drives during the last 72 hours of last year’s campaign. STOMP has since been incorporated into the RNC, but McKeon said he is still eager to participate in the outreach effort.
It was unclear at press time which members would challenge McKeon for the chairman’s gavel. Asked to name his potential opponents, McKeon said that he had spoken with Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), who was considering the race, but he did not name any other potential competitors.
Castle’s office tacitly confirmed that the congressman was pondering a run.
“Representative Castle considers Mr. McKeon a good friend and he obviously has a lot of respect for him,” said Castle spokeswoman Elizabeth Wenk in a statement. “Because Congressman Castle has been at the heart of all education debates — from his time as Governor to his role as Subcommittee Chair — he is obviously a strong candidate among his peers for Chair of the full committee.”
McKeon is close with Boehner, according to staffers who work closely with the committee, and he has expanded his committee-related activities in recent months.
McKeon’s focus on the committee has been to try to make college more affordable, as chairman of the subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness. He said he wants to cut down on the bureaucratic costs involved in the federal loan process to make higher education more widely available to American families.
In 1998, McKeon helped broker a peace with the Clinton White House to reauthorize the 1965 Higher Education Act, which, among other things, provides funding for colleges and universities and offers Pell Grants to enrolled students. The act is up for reauthorization again this year, and McKeon should have a leading role in those negotiations.
McKeon was voted president of his freshman class when he was first elected to Congress in 1992.