Defense Committees Begin Taking Shape

Membership on congressional committees that oversee defense spending and policy is beginning to take shape almost a month into the new session.

Democrats named to the House Armed Services Committee as of Jan. 27 are Reps. Marilyn Strickland (Wash.), Stephanie Murphy (Fla.), Jimmy Panetta and Sara Jacobs (Calif.), Kai Kahele (Hawaii), Joseph Morelle (N.Y.), and Marc Veasey (Texas), according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office.

Republicans joining the committee include Reps. Mike Johnson (La.), Mark Green (Tenn.), Stephanie Bice (Okla.), Scott Franklin (Fla.), Lisa McClain (Mich.), Jerry Carl (Ala.), Blake Moore (Utah), and Pat Fallon and Ronny Jackson (Texas). Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers, now the top Republican on the panel, announced the picks Jan. 27.

Seven Republicans and two Democrats on HASC, including former Ranking Member Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), opted not to return for the 117th Congress, which began Jan. 3.

On the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) is taking over as chair following the retirement of Indiana Democrat Rep. Pete Visclosky. California Republican Rep. Ken Calvert will serve as ranking member.

The rest of the subcommittee will be comprised of Democratic Reps. Tim Ryan and Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Derek Kilmer (Wash.), Pete Aguilar (Calif.), Cheri Bustos (Ill.), Charlie Crist (Fla.), and Ann Kirkpatrick (Ariz.). Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) will serve as an ex-officio member.

Republicans have not announced who will represent the GOP on the defense subcommittee this term. House committee recommendations need to be approved by the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, the House Democratic Caucus, and the Republican Conference.

Committee assignments are still murky on the Senate side. Though Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) is preparing to take over as chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, senators are waiting on chamber leadership to agree on how Democrats and Republicans will share power—and allocate committee seats—in the legislative body now split 50-50 between parties.

Three members are off the committee after losing the election: former Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), and Doug Jones (D-Ala.). The Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee similarly lost Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) to retirement. Others may leave as well to pursue interests on other committees.

Some speculate that newly sworn-in Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), the former Navy pilot and NASA astronaut, could take McSally’s place representing Arizona on SASC. Jake Best, a spokesperson for Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) said it’s possible the senator could join that panel.

“That’s an area he’s definitely worked on in the past,” Best said. “There could be some interest.”

Ossoff—who became the Senate’s youngest member at age 33 after beating Perdue in a runoff election this month—was the legislative assistant for foreign affairs and defense policy to Georgia Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson from 2007 to 2012.

Chip Unruh, a spokesperson for Reed, recently reminded reporters that “everyone who was on SASC last Congress and is still a senator in the 117th Congress remains frozen in place right now.”

Senators are working through the multistep process of switching the party in power on committees, after Democrats took control of the chamber thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaking 51st vote.

First, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) must come to a power-sharing agreement. Then the parties will finalize committee assignments for their members, after which the Senate will formally adopt its organizational rules and install new committee chairs, Unruh said.

“Once a power sharing deal is reached and once committees formally organize, then Jack Reed will become chairman of SASC,” he said. “When will the official change happen? I wish I knew.”

Organizational limbo isn’t stopping the committees from moving ahead, though. SASC has already held hearings on the nomination of Lloyd J. Austin III to be Defense Secretary, and scheduled a Feb. 2 hearing to consider Kathleen H. Hicks for deputy defense secretary. HASC will also hold a public planning meeting to prepare for the year on Feb. 3.