Likely Biden Cabinet Nods and Key Retirements Causing Shakeups in Congressional Committee Leadership
The leadership of key committees on Capitol Hill is about to change. The faces on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the House Natural Resources Committee, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee will look different in 2021. On the Republican side, retirements have left openings while appointments to the Biden cabinet may shake up Democratic leadership on committees handling public lands, energy, and the implementation of the Green New Deal.
Though few Democrats are leaving their chairs, some may be considering leaving to accept a seat on Biden’s cabinet.
Rep. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said he intends to remain chair of the House Natural Resources Committee for the next term. Through a committee spokesman, he pledged to focus on advancing environmental justice and climate policies in the next term. However, there may be a change at the vice chairman level depending on whom Biden taps for positions in the Interior Department.
Rep. Deb Haaland, (D-N.M), head of the National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands Subcommittee is seen as a strong contender for Interior Secretary.
Haaland, one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, would be the first Native American to head the Interior Department. Her nomination would help change the public image of the department, which has often been criticized for failing to fulfill its responsibilities to tribes. In a statement to The Hill, Haaland said she was open to the possibility of a cabinet position but promised that New Mexico remained her top priority.
“It is notable that our country has finally reached the point where having the first Native American Cabinet Secretary is a serious consideration and there are people putting it down on paper,” she said. “New Mexico is my top priority, and I am open to opportunities where I can best serve our state, Indian Country, and our country at large and pushing the Biden climate plan.”
Other names floated for the position are fellow New Mexicans Sen. Martin Heinrich (D) and Sen. Tom Udall (D). Udall, whose father headed the Interior Department during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, did not seek reelection this year, but has stressed in public statements that he is not retiring from public life. Meanwhile, Heinrich is ranking member of the Senate Energy Subcommittee.
Across the aisle, retirements and term limits are causing a leadership shakeup for Republicans.
In the Senate, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) is term-limited as chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and will be stepping down. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the senior Republican on the committee, has not yet decided if he will continue to chair the Environment and Public Works Committee or would move to replace her. With two races in Georgia yet to be determined, Republican control of the Senate is yet uncertain.
“My focus is making sure we have a majority in the United States Senate, and under those circumstances, I’d have a chance to be the chair of either one, which is critically important,” Barrasso told E&E News.
If Barrasso decides to stay with EPW, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), would become the new chairman. If he chooses to leave, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.) would likely take over as chair of the EPW Committee.
In the House, Republican Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon is retiring as ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Ore.), Rep. Michael Burgess (Texas), and Rep. Bob Latta (Ohio) are striving to replace him. Rodgers is promoting her experience on the steering committee as a demonstration that she has the experience to lead a committee with broad jurisdiction, while Burgess is highlighting his seniority, and Latta his experience serving on all six subcommittees.
There is also a crowded field to replace Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, who is retiring, as ranking member of the House Natural Resources committee.
Colorado Rep. Doug Lamborn, the committee’s senior Republican, has said that he will not seek the ranking member position. Instead, Lamborn says he will remain a subcommittee ranking member while focusing on “the critical issues before the House Armed Service Committee.”
Already several representatives, including Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) have expressed interest in the position. In his statement to E&E News, Lamborn said that they would be “strong ranking members,” as would California Rep. Tom McClintock.
Elections for all of these positions are anticipated in the coming weeks.