Clapper: Al-Qaida Is ‘Morphing, Franchising Itself’

Megan Scully
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Megan Scully
Feb. 11, 2014, 10 a.m.

With House Armed Ser­vices Chair­man Ike Skelton fa­cing a tough re-elec­tion chal­lenge in his west­ern Mis­souri dis­trict, spec­u­la­tion is mount­ing about who would lead Demo­crats on the com­mit­tee if the 17-term law­maker loses his seat in Novem­ber.

Com­plic­at­ing mat­ters is un­cer­tainty over wheth­er Demo­crats will be able to main­tain their ma­jor­ity in the House — and what a change in power would mean for both de­fense spend­ing and Pentagon policy.

With re­tire­ments and close races ex­pec­ted to change the makeup of all four con­gres­sion­al de­fense pan­els, the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee lead­er­ship — par­tic­u­larly among Demo­crats — ap­pears to be the biggest ques­tion mark lead­ing up to the midterm elec­tions.

If Skelton were to lose his re-elec­tion, Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., the second most seni­or Demo­crat on the com­mit­tee, is next in line for the gavel. But Spratt’s as­cend­ancy in the wake of a Skelton loss is far from guar­an­teed as the 14-term law­maker faces a dif­fi­cult race of his own.

But if Spratt were giv­en the op­por­tun­ity to lead Demo­crats on Armed Ser­vices, he would have to give up his gavel on the Budget Com­mit­tee — likely a dif­fi­cult de­cision for the vet­er­an num­bers-crunch­er.

For its part, the Armed Ser­vices chair­man’s of­fice is ex­press­ing con­fid­ence in Skelton’s re-elec­tion bid, as well as Demo­crats’ chances of keep­ing a ma­jor­ity in the next Con­gress.

“We don’t an­ti­cip­ate a change in the ma­jor­ity, and we ex­pect Chair­man Skelton to be back next year to con­tin­ue all of his great work for our mil­it­ary and na­tion­al se­cur­ity,” a com­mit­tee spokes­wo­man said.

The com­mit­tee is not mak­ing any con­tin­gency plans, nor have any pan­el mem­bers be­gun pub­licly jock­ey­ing for the chair­man­ship should Skelton lose, aides said. But at least some in­form­al chat­ter is emer­ging over what hap­pens if Skelton loses and if Re­pub­lic­ans take the House.

After Spratt, Armed Ser­vices Read­i­ness Sub­com­mit­tee Chair­man So­lomon Ort­iz, D-Texas, is next in seni­or­ity and, ac­cord­ing to House aides, would be a non­con­tro­ver­sial pick to lead Demo­crats on the com­mit­tee.

Ort­iz’s fo­cus over the last sev­er­al years has been the read­i­ness of the heav­ily de­ployed U.S. com­bat forces, as well as on mil­it­ary con­struc­tion — areas that cus­tom­ar­ily have the mu­tu­al sup­port of Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats and are rarely con­ten­tious.

Wheth­er it is Skelton, Spratt or Ort­iz who holds the Demo­crats’ top spot on the com­mit­tee in the 112th Con­gress, the type of lead­er­ship on the typ­ic­ally bi­par­tis­an pan­el would re­main un­changed.

There are a “cer­tain amount of old guard guys who are very bi­par­tis­an [and have a] nice gen­tle­manly ap­proach to things,” said a House Demo­crat­ic aide. “I don’t see big style changes.”

After Ort­iz in seni­or­ity is Seapower and Ex­ped­i­tion­ary Forces Sub­com­mit­tee Chair­man Gene Taylor, D-Miss., an un­waver­ing pro-de­fense Blue Dog who of­ten sides with House Re­pub­lic­ans on key votes — a fact that doesn’t help his chances of tak­ing over the power­ful com­mit­tee.

An­oth­er seni­or mem­ber of the Armed Ser­vices pan­el is House In­tel­li­gence Chair­man Sil­vestre Reyes, who is close with House Speak­er Pelosi. But it is un­clear wheth­er the Texas law­maker would give up one chair­man­ship for an­oth­er, or wheth­er he would be asked by lead­er­ship to do so.

A dark-horse can­did­ate for the top Demo­crat slot, should he choose to pur­sue it, could be Air and Land Forces Sub­com­mit­tee Chair­man Adam Smith of Wash­ing­ton, who is viewed by mem­bers and staff as a rising star on the com­mit­tee. Last year, Smith took over the sub­com­mit­tee, which over­sees Army and Air Force pro­grams and is ar­gu­ably one of the com­mit­tee’s most im­port­ant.

But to se­lect Smith for the post, Demo­crats would have to pass over both Ort­iz and Taylor and risk an­ger­ing both the His­pan­ic Caucus and Blue Dogs — two groups that lead­er­ship par­tic­u­larly would need sup­port from if the Demo­crats’ ma­jor­ity dwindled to only a few votes.

Across the aisle, Armed Ser­vices rank­ing mem­ber Howard (Buck) McK­eon, R-Cal­if., would likely hold his spot as the top Re­pub­lic­an on the pan­el wheth­er the GOP takes the ma­jor­ity of the House or not.

But Rep. Mac Thorn­berry, R-Texas, the third most seni­or Re­pub­lic­an on the pan­el, put up a for­mid­able chal­lenge dur­ing the cam­paign for the rank­ing mem­ber slot last year, and he could do so again in a new Con­gress.

If Re­pub­lic­ans win in Novem­ber, “McK­eon is go­ing to make every ef­fort to be chair­man,” said a House GOP aide. But the aide stressed that com­mit­tee Re­pub­lic­ans are not “count­ing their eggs be­fore they hatch.”

As the ma­jor­ity, the party would gain sev­er­al new seats on the com­mit­tee, but those gains will not be de­cided un­til after the elec­tion. There could also be some shuff­ling of sub­com­mit­tee lead­ers, but the GOP aide said McK­eon “has great con­fid­ence” in the cur­rent Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship on the com­mit­tee.

Mean­while, Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices lead­er­ship — with Sen. Carl Lev­in, Mich., the top Demo­crat, and Sen. John Mc­Cain, Ar­iz., the top Re­pub­lic­an — would likely go un­changed in the next Con­gress, par­tic­u­larly now that it looks like Demo­crats will main­tain at least a nar­row ma­jor­ity in the cham­ber.

And des­pite a lot of turnover on the Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee, Chair­man Daniel In­ouye and rank­ing mem­ber Thad Co­chran — who also serve as the lead­ers of the De­fense Ap­pro­pri­ations Sub­com­mit­tee — are ex­pec­ted to keep their posts.

But there could be some changes in the makeup of the House De­fense Ap­pro­pri­ations Sub­com­mit­tee, re­gard­less of which party is in power.

For one thing, De­fense Ap­pro­pri­ations Sub­com­mit­tee Chair­man Norm Dicks, D-Wash., is seek­ing to be­come chair­man of the full com­mit­tee and in­tends to keep his hand at the helm of the de­fense pan­el as well. But while Demo­crat­ic chair­men have tra­di­tion­ally been al­lowed to also keep an ap­pro­pri­ations sub­com­mit­tee, sources said lead­er­ship may not al­low that prac­tice to con­tin­ue next year.

On the Re­pub­lic­an side, De­fense Ap­pro­pri­ations Sub­com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber C.W. (Bill) Young, R-Fla., will reach the end of his six-year term lim­it at the end of this Con­gress. He could, however, seek a waiver from the steer­ing com­mit­tee to ex­tend his ten­ure as the sub­com­mit­tee’s top Re­pub­lic­an.

Should con­trol of either cham­ber switch after the elec­tion, the de­fense pan­els, whose is­sues tend to fall more of­ten along pa­ro­chi­al lines than par­tis­an ones, would not ex­per­i­ence a seis­mic shift.

But Re­pub­lic­ans, who have raised con­cerns that pro­jec­ted an­nu­al in­creases to de­fense spend­ing are get­ting smal­ler, could use their ma­jor­ity status to try to fat­ten the Pentagon budget, or at least match the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­quest. This year, House ap­pro­pri­at­ors trimmed $7 bil­lion from the FY11 re­quest, while Sen­ate ap­pro­pri­at­ors cut $8.1 bil­lion from the base budget.

Re­gard­less of which party is in power, “it’s only go­ing to get bet­ter from [out­go­ing House Ap­pro­pri­ations Chair­man Dav­id] Obey, who is not a big fan of the de­fense bill and would hap­pily raid it for all he could,” a former Ap­pro­pri­ations aide said.

A Re­pub­lic­an ma­jor­ity could also clash with the ad­min­is­tra­tion and con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats on some policy is­sues, in­clud­ing the fate of the U.S. mil­it­ary’s de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity in Guantanamo, Cuba, and the sus­pec­ted ter­ror­ists it holds and the im­ple­ment­a­tion of an an­ti­cip­ated re­peal of the 1993 law ban­ning openly gay in­di­vidu­als from serving in the mil­it­ary.

There could also be some struc­tur­al changes to the com­mit­tees. For in­stance, House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Re­pub­lic­ans could move to ab­ol­ish the over­sight and in­vest­ig­a­tions sub­com­mit­tee that Skelton cre­ated when he as­sumed his chair­man­ship in 2007. Re­pub­lic­ans ab­ol­ished the sub­com­mit­tee in 1995.

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