By Elana Schor - 07/19/06 12:00 AM EDT
The race for the House International Relations Committee gavel has become a five-way contest after Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) sent packets yesterday to the Republican Steering Committee announcing his bid to take over the panel next year.
Royce seized the national spotlight during this month’s recess with two explosive field hearings on immigration and border security, but he kept his letter to the Steering Committee short and sweet.
“I look forward to presenting to you my full background. For now, I will focus on a few of my key qualifications and thoughts,” Royce wrote to the majority’s 28-member panel, which fills vacant chairmanships and will determine his fate, provided that Republicans retain control of the House.
Despite House Republicans’ intense focus on November, International Relations is one of seven panels where quiet campaigns for chairman have carried on for months. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), renowned for her fundraising prowess, is considered the front-runner, with Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) running second because of his seniority but likely to face questions about his centrism and periodic disagreements with leadership.
The other two aspirants, Reps. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.), have made enemies with their outspoken positions on India and veterans funding, respectively, leaving Royce, whom retiring Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) tapped in 2003 to lead the committee’s first wartime delegation to Iraq, a strong dark horse.
Immigration could be the seventh-term Southern Californian’s ticket to the gavel, as Royce twice this month plunged into the simmering debate over whether the House’s enforcement-first bill or the Senate’s more moderate approach would better address illegal immigration. In a four-page list of achievements sent with his letter, Royce reminded the Steering Committee that he first discussed the terrorism risk of lax border security at an April hearing of his International Relations Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation.
“I have rigorously worked to develop awareness of the threat posed by Islamist terrorism, and to drive a Republican policy to combat it,” he wrote to the Steering Committee, where members of the California delegation hold five of 33 votes.
Royce testified in 1996 before a Senate subcommittee on the dangers of terrorism training camps in Afghanistan, where he lobbied to set up a U.S. radio station to promote democratic ideals, modeled on the Cold War-era Radio Free Europe.
Still, fundraising remains perhaps decisively important for Steering Committee members during chairmanship votes. Royce lacks a leadership PAC, as do Smith and Leach, but has highlighted his decision to hold off on waging a public campaign for the gavel out of respect for Hyde, who has juggled a full slate of issues in his final months in office.
Hyde has not publicly endorsed any of the members seeking to succeed him as chairman and is unlikely to wade into the race.
Many Republicans have not yet forgotten this winter’s fierce race for majority leader, which could be a factor in chairmanship bids. Ros-Lehtinen publicly backed House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) over victorious leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), as did Burton, Smith and Leach. Royce did not declare his vote publicly but reportedly voted for Blunt on both ballots.
Ros-Lehtinen exceeded her quota for last month’s National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) President’s Dinner and has sent $239,000 to GOP House and Senate candidates during this election cycle through her leadership PAC. The PAC has raised about $675,000 since early 2005, more than 20 times its pace for the previous campaign season.
Burton’s leadership PAC has given $49,000 to Republican candidates so far this cycle, also an uptick since 2004.
Royce has steered more than $20,000 from his campaign coffers to Republican challengers and vulnerable incumbents this cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, giving to Reps. Clay Shaw (Fla.), Geoff Davis (Ky.), Rodney Alexander (La.) and Steve Chabot (Ohio), as well as to Peter Roskam, the Illinois state senator vying for Hyde’s seat. He also has given more than $15,000 to the NRCC.