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House Armed Services Chair Announces Retirement

Rep. Buck McKeon announced on Thursday his retirement from Congress and the end to his run as the chair of the House Armed Services Committee -- one of the most powerful positions in government.

It's a move that has been expected for months, so much so that one committee member, Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, sent out a statement congratulating McKeon the night before the announcement.

McKeon said he chose not to seek a 12th term as a California Congressman partially because of the dysfunction of Washington to include Tea Party influences on the GOP caucus. “I think every member of our conference needs to look at themselves and re-evaluate what they were sent here to do,” McKeon said Thursday morning.

He also pointed the finger at the White House. Earlier this week, McKeon said that the President had failed to completely support the troops in the Afghanistan and failing to tell the American people about the importance of the mission.

"[President Obama] has not for months talked to the American people about the situation [in Afghanistan]. He has not given any [verbal] support or succor or help to our troops that are serving," McKeon said

At age 75, McKeon is the latest veteran lawmaker to exit Congress frustrated with the gridlock in Washington. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., similarly announced his retirement after 12 terms on Wednesday. McKeon's counterpart, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, is retiring at the end of his term.

"Unlike many other recent retirements in the U.S. House, McKeon's does not come as a surprise: His exit had been rumored for months, to the point where two prominent Republicans back in California had essentially already announced their campaigns in advance of McKeon's actual announcement," said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

"The exit of McKeon -- and the death of Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla. -- further thins the ranks of old-school defense appropriators from the House GOP. This is notable in a party that, with the rise of the Tea Party and more dovish leaders like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is not quite as uniformly supportive of lavish defense spending as it has been historically," Kondik said.

Even if McKeon had not retired, he would have likely had to step down as chair because of House term limits for chairmen. He said that could have offered some awkward moments with the new chairman.

As for who the new chairman will be, McKeon has endorsed Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the vice chair of the committee. Two other Republican committee members in play are Turner and Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., but many expect the spot to go to Thornberry who comes from a district where the V-22 Osprey is built.

McKeon took over as the Armed Services Committee chair in 2011. Since day one he's fought budget cuts, especially the sequestration cuts to the Defense Department. Much of his chairmanship has been dedicated to that battle in maintaining funding to the Pentagon.

On McKeon's way out, the ranking member of the committee, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., had kind words for a committee chair he often battled during  the more heated debates while approving defense budgets.

"We formed a strong working relationship that allowed us to pass the National Defense Authorization Act year after year. Given all the tense national security issues we have faced over the years, it would have been easy to devolve into partisan fights. Buck never let that happen – he never let our disagreements get in the way of providing for our troops," Smith said in a statement.

 

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