Meet the Mikes: The New Men in Charge of Military and Veterans Oversight in the House

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Leading House Republicans at a press conference at the Capitol.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif joined in the front the row by, from left, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., incoming chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, and Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, incoming chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, during an August, 2021 press conference at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is previewing upcoming fights over "wokeness" in the military while the new House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman is already demanding documents on several subjects from the Department of Veterans Affairs after the Republican conference formally chose them to lead key congressional panels.

In a closed-door meeting Tuesday, House Republicans officially appointed committee leaders for the just-commenced congressional session, including Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., as Armed Services chairman and Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., as Veterans Affairs chairman.

Rogers and Bost faced no challengers to becoming chairmen, so their ascension to the top of the panels was never in doubt. But the GOP conference's vote made their jobs official, and for Rogers, it comes after he made headlines in a dramatic moment during last week's battle over the speakership.

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In a statement after Tuesday's meeting, Rogers said he will focus on both preparing the military to face threats from adversaries such as Russia and China, and probing policies that advance a "social agenda" in the military.

"Initiatives that service a social agenda but don't advance our national security will be scrutinized," Rogers said. "Those in charge of these initiatives will come before the committee to explain how they will protect our national security. We will leave no stone unturned in holding the Biden administration accountable."

Republicans, including Rogers, have previously vowed to use their House majority to target Pentagon policies they call "woke," a term they apply to a wide range of policies they disagree with, from efforts to make the force more welcoming to minorities and women to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Republicans already successfully repealed the vaccine mandate in last year's defense policy bill, but have now pledged to fight to reinstate service members who were discharged under the mandate.

Rogers is perhaps most known as one of Congress' top proponents for the Space Force, having co-sponsored a proposal for a space military branch two years before the Space Force became a reality.

He has also been known as a mild-mannered lawmaker who rarely makes waves. But that reputation didn't mesh with what happened when he got into a confrontation with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., on the House floor last week.

After Gaetz voted "present" in the 14th round of voting for the next House speaker, again denying Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the job, Rogers charged up to Gaetz and reportedly shouted something along the lines of "you're finished," prompting Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., to pull Rogers away by his chin and shoulders.

Gaetz is a member of the Armed Services Committee and had reportedly sought to chair an Armed Services subcommittee as one of his conditions to support McCarthy for speaker. Choosing subcommittee chairs is typically the purview of committee chairmen, and Rogers, who is also on the Republican Steering Committee that assigns members to committees, had previously threatened to strip anyone who opposed McCarthy of their committee seats.

McCarthy eventually won the speakership on the 15th round of voting after enough Republicans voted present to lower the threshold needed to win, and both Rogers and Gaetz have indicated they have made up.

"@RepMattGaetz and I have a long and productive working relationship, that I am sure will continue," Rogers tweeted Sunday. Rogers also told reporters Tuesday that Gaetz "made clear he doesn't want" to chair a subcommittee.

Meanwhile, Bost said in his own statement Tuesday he plans to build on "bipartisan successes" from previous years during his tenure as Veterans Affairs Committee chairman.

"In order to do that, we need to hold the Biden administration accountable and restore regular order," Bost said. "This will help us bring VA into the 21st century with commonsense legislation and oversight for the next generation of warfighters, without leaving behind today's veterans."

As his first act as chairman, Bost sent VA Secretary Denis McDonough a letter requesting a slew of documents by Jan. 27, including detailed plans on implementing a new digital system to administer GI Bills benefits, an Institute for Defense Analyses report commissioned by the VA on the electronic health record modernization program's life cycle cost estimate and a comprehensive master plan to expand housing for homeless and at-risk veterans at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center.

"As chairman, I am committed to overseeing implementation of the landmark, bipartisan expansions of veterans' health care and benefits in recent years, while rooting out mismanagement and waste of taxpayer dollars," Bost wrote. "In order to do that, I rely on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to honor the committee's requests for information and documents within its jurisdiction in a timely fashion."

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at rebecca.kheel@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

Related: Republicans Vow to Put 'Woke' Military in Crosshairs if They Win in November

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