One of the loudest backers of the government’s spy operations is taking his voice from Congress to the radio waves. And already ambitious colleagues are vying to replace him.
Mike Rogers’s surprise announcement early Friday morning that he was not seeking reelection in November — and instead starting a new career as a talk-radio host — left congressional aides scrambling to figure out who might succeed him at the helm of the House Intelligence Committee. The unexpected vacancy already has attracted the attention of at least two other Republicans who may soon jockey for the top slot.
All eyes Friday were on Rep. Mac Thornberry, who is the second-most-senior Republican on both the Intelligence panel and the House Armed Services Committee.
But the Texas Republican has, so far, denied being interest in the job. “While chairing the House Intelligence Committee is an important job, my focus for the future is strictly on the House Armed Services Committee, where I hope to follow Buck McKeon as chairman,” Thornberry said in a statement Friday.
With Thornberry stepping aside, the line of succession is less clear. Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida is next on the Republican seniority list, but he already holds the gavel of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
With those two out of the picture, it’s anyone’s game now. But Reps. Peter King of New York and Devin Nunes of California have already jumped in.
“It would be an honor to be considered,” King said in a phone interview. “This is up to the speaker [John Boehner]…. But if somebody asks me, I’d be interested.”
Nunes is being even less equivocal. “Rep. Nunes is interested in the position of chairman of the intel committee,” spokesman Jack Langer said.
King was blindsided by the sudden news that Rogers was retiring. “None of us saw it coming,” he said, adding that he is unsure who may turn out to be his competition for the chairmanship. “None of us have had a chance to talk to each other” about it just yet, he added.
Whichever lawmaker takes over the Intelligence chairmanship is virtually sure to have a big role in the debate over how to weigh Americans’ privacy concerns with the need for national security, spurred by Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephone and Internet data.
But Rogers likely hopes to end much of that debate before he steps down next January.
A fierce defender of the NSA, Rogers, along with the panel’s top Democrat, Dutch Ruppersberger, introduced a bill earlier this week to allow the NSA’s vast database of phone records to stay in the hands of the phone companies — and not the government. The legislation would allow the NSA to force those companies to hand over particular records before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court could review those orders, a key departure from the proposal President Obama is backing, which would require the agents to obtain those orders first.
King, who formerly chaired the House Homeland Security Committee, is another strong supporter of the NSA, advocating for an “aggressive” intelligence-collection program. “I didn’t think any reforms were necessary, legally or constitutionally,” King said, but the “political realities” mean he must support reforms in order to preserve the program.
The other Republicans on the committee are Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey, Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Tom Rooney of Florida, Joe Heck of Nevada, and Mike Pompeo of Kansas.