Collins Senate bid sets off game of musical chairs for GOP

Collins Senate bid sets off game of musical chairs for GOP
© Greg Nash

Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsBossie, Lewandowski warned Trump he was in trouble in 2020: report The Hill's Campaign Report: GOP beset by convention drama Loeffler runs ad tying Doug Collins to Pelosi, Sanders, Biden MORE’s decision to run for the Senate in Georgia will set in motion a game of musical chairs that could put two of President TrumpDonald John TrumpJustice says it will recommend Trump veto FISA bill Fauci: Nominating conventions may be able to go on as planned Poll: Biden leads Trump by 11 points nationally MORE’s most loyal defenders in the top GOP slots of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees.

Collins has been serving as the top Republican on the powerful Judiciary Committee since January 2019, but House GOP conference rules require lawmakers to relinquish chairman or ranking member posts once they launch bids for higher office.

Collins formally announced Wednesday that he will challenge newly appointed Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerBossie, Lewandowski warned Trump he was in trouble in 2020: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Major space launch today; Trump feuds with Twitter The Hill's Campaign Report: GOP beset by convention drama MORE (R-Ga.) in a special election this November.

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Under one possible scenario, Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanTrump urges GOP to vote against bill reauthorizing surveillance powers FBI director stuck in the middle with 'Obamagate' Merger moratorium takes center stage in antitrust debate MORE (R-Ohio), a Trump ally who serves as the top Republican on the Oversight and Reform Committee, could move over to take the top GOP spot on Judiciary, some GOP lawmakers told The Hill. 

That would open up the top GOP job on Oversight, which some lawmakers said could temporarily be filled by another Trump loyalist, retiring Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsHouse leaders take vote-counting operations online Mulvaney: 'We've overreacted a little bit' to coronavirus The Memo: Trump agenda rolls on amid pandemic MORE (R-N.C.). Jordan was the founding chairman of the Freedom Caucus, while Meadows succeeded him as the leader of that conservative group.

The Jordan-Meadows scenario is “being talked about” but “no decisions have been made,” according to one senior GOP aide familiar with the early talks. 

But a key GOP lawmaker said Jordan is in a strong position for the Judiciary job. “If Jordan wants it, he will get it,” said one member of the GOP Steering Committee, the leadership-aligned panel that votes on who gets ranking member and committee slots.

In a brief interview with The Hill, Meadows said he was focused on the impeachment trial and had no comment for this story.

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Jordan, who initially sought to become Judiciary’s ranking member before the start of the 116th Congress, was ultimately picked as the ranking member on Oversight after an 11th-hour deal was struck for Meadows to drop out of the race and allow Jordan to run uncontested. 

When the House Intelligence Committee launched its impeachment inquiry last fall, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyJustice says it will recommend Trump veto FISA bill McCarthy urges Democrats to pull surveillance bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Major space launch today; Trump feuds with Twitter MORE (R-Calif.) needed an attack dog who was good on TV and could aggressively defend Trump. He temporarily shifted Jordan to the Intelligence panel.  

And this month, Trump named both Jordan and Meadows to his House impeachment team, which has been strategizing with the president’s legal team and defending Trump in the media each day of the Senate trial.

“Jordan has done a good job. I think he’s earned it, but let’s see who else is interested,” said a second member of the Steering Committee.

Others who have been floated for the top Judiciary post include Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeGerman lawmaker, US ambassador to Germany trade jabs The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Americans debate life under COVID-19 risks The Memo: Trump agenda rolls on amid pandemic MORE (R-Texas), a former federal prosecutor whom Trump had considered for attorney general; Rep. Mike JohnsonJames (Mike) Michael JohnsonFBI director stuck in the middle with 'Obamagate' Put entrepreneurs, workers and flexibility in next stimulus package FBI director in 'hot seat' as GOP demands reforms MORE, the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee who is a close ally of fellow Louisiana Republican, Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Major space launch today; Trump feuds with Twitter House leaders take vote-counting operations online House Republicans to file lawsuit to halt proxy voting MORE; and retiring Rep. Martha RobyMartha Dubina RobyThe 14 other key races to watch on Super Tuesday Collins Senate bid sets off game of musical chairs for GOP Global health is the last bastion of bipartisan foreign policy MORE (R-Ala.).

But Roby told The Hill on Wednesday night she’s focused on her appropriations work in her final year of Congress and is not interested in the top Judiciary job. 

“A transition will happen in the near term,” one GOP lawmaker told The Hill. “Ratcliffe and Jordan appear to be the two horses in the race.”

The Steering Committee, which is composed of top GOP leaders and regional representatives, is expected to interview candidates and vote to recommend a replacement for Collins in the coming weeks.

By backing Jordan for the Judiciary role, several GOP sources said, McCarthy would be aligning himself with a one-time political rival and a key conservative voting bloc that he’ll need to secure the Speaker’s gavel in the event Republicans take back the majority.

After the 2018 midterms, Jordan unsuccessfully challenged McCarthy for minority leader. And Jordan’s Freedom Caucus has traditionally been a frequent thorn in leadership’s side, forcing the resignation of then-Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBottom line Pelosi, Trump slide further into the muck The partisan divide on crisis aid MORE (R-Ohio) in 2015 and blocking McCarthy from succeeding him.

One possible curveball: Collins could try to seek a waiver to remain in his Judiciary post, though he hasn’t decided to do so. The waiver would have to be approved by the Steering Committee.

“I have not filed for one — I didn't know you had to file,” Collins told reporters on Wednesday. “Those are questions that we've been talking about before, and, you know — look those will be handled very soon.”