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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 CollinsGeorgia Gov. Kemp says he'd 'absolutely' back Trump as 2024 nominee The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Finger-pointing on Capitol riot; GOP balks at Biden relief plan Perdue rules out 2022 Senate bid against Warnock 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 TrumpBiden to sign executive order aimed at increasing voting access Albany Times Union editorial board calls for Cuomo's resignation Advocates warn restrictive voting bills could end Georgia's record turnout 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 LoefflerAdvocates warn restrictive voting bills could end Georgia's record turnout Georgia Gov. Kemp says he'd 'absolutely' back Trump as 2024 nominee Bipartisan bill would ban lawmakers from buying, selling stocks MORE (R-Ga.) in a special election this November.

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Under one possible scenario, Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanHillary Clinton brings up 'Freedom Fries' to mock 'cancel culture' Republicans call for hearing on Biden's handling of border surge Jim Jordan calls for House Judiciary hearing on 'cancel culture' 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 MeadowsTrump attacks Karl Rove: 'A pompous fool with bad advice' How scientists saved Trump's FDA from politics Liberals howl after Democrats cave on witnesses 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 McCarthyMcCarthy sits for 'Green Eggs and Ham' reading: I 'still like' Dr. Seuss Chamber of Commerce clarifies stance on lawmakers who voted against election certification Watch live: McCarthy holds press briefing 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 RatcliffeFormer Trump officials eye bids for political office Grenell congratulates Buttigieg on becoming second openly gay Cabinet member Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official MORE (R-Texas), a former federal prosecutor whom Trump had considered for attorney general; Rep. Mike JohnsonJames (Mike) Michael JohnsonCassidy defends vote to proceed with Trump trial after GOP backlash Cassidy calls Trump attorneys 'disorganized' after surprise vote House Democrats renew push for checks on presidential pardons MORE, the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee who is a close ally of fellow Louisiana Republican, Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseBiden's COVID, border policies prove he's serious about neither Republican rips GOP lawmakers for voting by proxy from CPAC Merrick Garland is right to prioritize domestic terrorism, but he'll need a bigger boat MORE; and retiring Rep. Martha RobyMartha Dubina RobyHouse Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit The year of the Republican woman Barry Moore wins Alabama GOP runoff to replace Martha Roby 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 BoehnerThree ways James Kvaal can lead postsecondary education forward Boehner book jacket teases slams against Cruz, Trump Cruz hits back at Boehner for telling him to 'go f--- yourself' 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.”