Thornberry Announces Retirement from the House

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), right, greets Capt. Jesse Moulton, 39th Airlift Squadron C-130J Super Hercules pilot, at Dyess AFB, Texas, on Aug. 3, 2017. Air Force photo by A1C Emily Copeland.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the ranking Republican and former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, announced Sept. 30 that he will retire at the end of his current term in Congress.

Thornberry, who has represented the 13th District in the Texas Panhandle since 1995, was instrumental in raising the defense budget during the first two years of the Trump Administration, pushing for increased readiness spending and on research and development of cutting-edge systems such as hypersonic missiles. He presided over the first base defense budget to top $700 billion, winning support in part by blaming high-profile military accidents on deficient readiness spending and inconsistent funding of the Pentagon. Thornberry also voted for the 2011 Budget Control Act that created the sequester threat.

He became chairman in 2015, succeeding Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.). In the position, he pressed for reforms of the Pentagon’s acquisition system, which he saw as too unwieldy to keep up with modern technology. He championed Section 804 reforms that authorized the Defense Department to skip steps deemed non-value-added in Pentagon acquisition.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) took over as HASC chairman in 2018 when the Democrats took control of the House. As ranking member, Thornberry has opposed defense spending reductions, particularly in readiness accounts.

Thornberry is likely to continue to play a central role in negotiations over the fiscal 2021 defense budget, if Republican GOP leadership doesn’t re-assign his seat on the committee.

He did not give a specific reason for not seeking re-election.

“I believe the time has come for a change,” he said in a statement, in which he also thanked voters for their support.

Thornberry’s district is not considered competitive, and his seat is almost certain to be won by another Republican.

He joins three other Republicans on the HASC who have said they will retire from the House: Reps. Rob Bishop of Utah, Mike Conaway of Texas, and Paul Mitchell of Michigan.

Because of term limits, Thornberry could not have returned as HASC chairman even if the Republicans won the House majority in 2020.

Thornberry’s retirement could elevate Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) to the ranking member or chairman spot. Wilson represents the 2nd District in South Carolina, which encompasses Fort Jackson and is near Shaw AFB in Sumter. Shaw is the home of 9th Air Force and many airmen assigned to the base live in Wilson’s district. He is the ranking member of the HASC subcommittee on readiness, and serves on the subcommittees for strategic forces and emerging threats and capabilities.