Shake-Ups Coming for Some Military Congressional Committees After the Election

Mark Esper and Gen. Mark A. Milley provide testimony to the SASC.
Then Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley provide testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., March 4, 2020. (DoD/Lisa Ferdinando)

The membership of the House in the 117th Congress is largely set, with Democrats maintaining the majority and most key leaders of committees that oversee the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs returning.

The makeup of the Senate and who chairs its committees is another matter, dependent on the outcome of two runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5.

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According to The Associated Press, the current count in the 100-member Senate is 50 Republicans, 46 Democrats and two Independents who caucus with the Democrats -- Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine.

Should the Democrats win the two races in Georgia, that would give them a total of 50, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris empowered to break ties as president of the Senate.

Control of the Senate would pass to the Democrats and trigger a seismic role reversal for current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Who keeps their chairmanships or ranking member positions depends largely on committee assignments by party leaders in the House and on seniority in the Senate -- or, in the case of Republicans in both chambers, term limits.

Here's a look at the committees that set policy and fund the armed services and VA, and the outcome of their leaderships' elections.

House Armed Services Committee: Chairman Adam Smith of Washington easily defeated Republican challenger Doug Basler, winning nearly three-quarters of his district's vote. Ranking member Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, is retiring at the end of the year; lawmakers vying for his position, including Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama and Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, both won their elections.

House Veterans Affairs Committee: Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., defeated his challenger, Air Force veteran Aja Smith, earning 64% of the vote vs. Smith's 35.9%. Ranking member Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., announced his retirement earlier this year; a possible successor for his role is Florida Rep. Gus Bilirakis, who served as vice chairman of the committee before the House flipped in 2018.

House Appropriations Committee: There will be a leadership shake-up in this committee, which controls all federal funding, including for the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security. Chairwoman Rep. Nita Lowey of New York is retiring; House Democrats likely will select her replacement from among those who chair one of the committee's 12 subcommittees, although reelected Defense Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Ind., and Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairwoman Lucille Roybal-Allard of California have taken themselves out of the running.

Rep. Kay Granger serves as the committee's ranking member; she won reelection with 63.7% of the vote in Texas' 12th District.

Senate Armed Services Committee: Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I., both won their elections. Whether they keep their positions will depend on who wins the majority after the Georgia runoffs.

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee: Neither Chairman Jerry Moran of Kansas nor ranking member Jon Tester of Montana were up for reelection this year; both are likely to keep their positions if the Senate doesn't flip.

Senate Appropriations Committee: The terms of Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama and ranking member Patrick Leahy of Vermont end in 2022; it's nearly certain both will keep their positions but could swap roles if the Senate changes hands.

Other races of interest:

Retired NASA astronaut and Navy Capt. Mark Kelly defeated Sen. Martha McSally, the Air Force's first female combat fighter pilot, in a close race that continues to be counted in Arizona. As of Wednesday, Kelly had 51.2% of the vote to McSally's 48.8%. McSally has not conceded.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, a retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonel, fought off a tough challenge from Democrat Theresa Greenfield, securing her job with 51.8% of the vote statewide. Ernst is chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services Committee's Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee.

Sen. David Perdue, R-Georgia, chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee's Seapower subcommittee and faces a runoff Jan. 5 against John Ossoff, a filmmaker and journalist who served as a congressional staffer for Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., for five years.

-- Patricia Kime contributed to this story.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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