Howard P. “Buck” McKeon made the worst-kept secret in the defense world official Thursday, announcing that he will not seek reelection next year.
“I will continue as chairman of the committee throughout the rest of this year and my term. We’ve got a lot of things that we need to do to finish up,” the California Republican told Real Clear Defense in an exclusive interview. “But I am term-limited as chairman, and I didn’t want people saying I was looking over the shoulder of the next chairman.”
McKeon, 75, made a formal — and at times tearful — announcement from the House Armed Services Committee hearing room Thursday morning, but the committee chairman has long been the subject of retirement rumors. He called the fact that he is term-limited as chairman the “biggest motivator” in his decision to retire.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, the committee’s vice chairman, is seen as the frontrunner in the race to succeed McKeon in the committee’s top spot. McKeon previously ran against Thornberry to become the committee’s ranking member in 2009.
McKeon’s time as chair comes as the HASC isn’t as powerful as it used to be, with the Defense Department — like the federal government at large — facing huge budget contraints. And with many members of Congress focused on cutting the deficit, Pentagon spending is no longer sacred to some.
“I am convinced that he’s ready to go and that there won’t be any slippage if the Steering Committee selects him to be the chairman. He’s up to speed, he’s ready to go, and I think he ought to be the next chairman of the Armed Services Committee,” McKeon said.
Though it’s been long speculated that McKeon would not seek reelection, it’s unclear when he made the decision. A local media outlet said Tuesday that he would make the announcement on Thursday. Roll Call picked up that report, but McKeon’s spokesperson Alissa McCurley pushed back, saying “he has yet to decide whether he will seek reelection.”