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Election 2014: the homeland security implications (Part 1)

The Senate and House election results last night will have significant consequences for a variety of policy issues, including homeland security policy issues. This post assesses the direct impact of the elections on the leadership and governance of homeland security issues in Congress; a later post will examine the broader impact on the legislative agenda.

In the Senate, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is poised to become the next chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC), in light of Sen. Tom Coburn’s retirement from the Senate at the end of this year. Sen. Tom Carper is likely to move from chairman to ranking member of the Committee, and the Democrats will need to fill several open seats on the Committee, in light of the losses by Sen. Mark Pryor and Sen. Mark Begich, and the retirement of Sen. Carl Levin.

HSGAC would lose a fourth Democratic member if Sen. Mary Landrieu is not re-elected in the runoff election now scheduled for December 6th in Louisiana. She has also served for the last four years as the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Homeland Security of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, playing a very significant role in setting the Department of Homeland Security’s funding priorities. Even if she is re-elected, it is possible that she would move to a ranking position on another subcommittee, given Sen. Tom Harkin’s retirement. In either scenario, someone like Sen. Jon Tester or Sen. Chris Coons would likely become the new ranking member of the subcommittee. Sen. Dan Coats seems likely to move from ranking member to chairman of the Homeland Security appropriations subcommittee, given that no Republican members ahead of him in seniority are departing the Senate.

On the House side, there will be more stability, with Rep. Michael McCaul and Rep. Bennie Thompson likely to continue on as Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security. There could be some turnover in the leadership of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, due to domino effects created by the retirement of senior appropriators on both the Republican and Democratic sides.

One near-term question is whether the shift in control of Senate will prompt the new Republican Senate leadership to reform and consolidate jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security, the one remaining unimplemented recommendation of the 2004 9/11 Commission report. A group convened by the Aspen Institute and the Annenberg Public Policy Center has brought renewed attention to this issue within the last year, in a report and a full-page ad placed in the Wall Street Journal that had several dozen signatories.

A transition to a new Congress, particularly when there is a switch in control of the House or Senate, offers a narrow window of opportunity to address jurisdictional issues such as this one. Incoming Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is familiar with this issue as the co-author of the original 2004 working group proposal to reform jurisdiction that was later watered down on the floor of the Senate. If the senior Republican national security leaders who were signatories on this letter push Sen. McConnell and the Senate Republican leadership team to focus on this issue, and if other Senators who will be affected, such as Sen. John Thune (slated to lead the Commerce Committee) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (slated to lead the Judiciary Committee), can be persuaded to accept some reform, then it is possible that some progress could be made. But it is not yet clear whether this issue will be a priority for the incoming leadership team.