As turnover continues among House Republicans, one retirement announcement could mean a move up for Colorado Springs Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn.
Mac Thornberry, a GOP stalwart who served as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee from 2015 to 2019, said Monday that he’s stepping down from the seat he’s held since 1995.
He’s the most senior of 16 House Republicans who are retiring or seeking another office next year, and one of six who are senior to Lamborn, who was elected to Congress in 2006.
The move, and the departure of two other House Republicans on the Armed Services Committee, would leave Lamborn as his party’s No. 3 member on the committee by seniority.
Length of service is something that traditionally has deep meaning in the House, where the longest-serving member was elected during Richard Nixon’s 1972 landslide.
Members with more time in the chamber get better office space, nicer seats in the dining room and preferred tee times on the local links.
But what really matters is that seniority is a key factor on deciding who has power and, in the case of Republicans these days, voice in the chamber. Until this term in Congress, Lamborn was a back-bencher.
In 2019, he moved up even as GOP fortunes sank, hitting 114th on the seniority list and earning him a seat as the ranking Republican on a Armed Services Committee panel on readiness.
Seniority isn’t something Colorado has much of in Congress. While many states hold onto their federal lawmakers for generations, the Centennial State has traded lawmakers on a regular basis.
Lamborn is the second-most senior lawmaker from the state, behind Denver Democrat Diana DeGette, who has hung on to her seat since 1997.
The state’s delegation to the U.S. Senate is less experienced. Our senior senator is Democrat Michael Bennet, who took his seat in 2009.
Some in town have decried the state’s lack of power in Washington as a factor that could cost military bases and jobs in lean times when the Pentagon starts cutting.
But it could also be a factor when the Pentagon is rolling in cash, like the Trump boom that’s ongoing.
Part of that boom has been beefing up the military’s space forces, including the addition of U.S. Space Command and its hundreds of troops.
The command is temporarily based in Colorado Springs, but a final call on where it will land hasn’t been made.
Colorado has the lead in every category that could reasonably be measured. It’s cheaper to keep the command here, because the Pikes Peak region has the military infrastructure built to support it.
It also makes sense to have the Pentagon’s space general in the town where it does the bulk of its space work.
But logic wilts in Washington when political pressure is brought to bear. And the place that could snag the command has plenty of political power.
Alabama has lobbied the Pentagon and White House hard to get the command. And leading the effort is the Senate’s fourth-most senior lawmaker.
Alabama’s Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby won his seat when Ronald Reagan was in the White House. And as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Shelby signs President Donald Trump’s paychecks.
So the Pentagon’s process to give the command a permanent home has stalled. And insiders worry that the White House is singing “Sweet Home Alabama.”
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240 Twitter: @xroederx