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House Republicans shuffle committee chairs

Hyde out of Judiciary seat

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The most prominent faces on some of the most powerful committees in the House of Representatives accepted a long-scheduled downgrade in prestige and seniority Thursday, as the full slate of the House's Republican membership voted to appoint several new committee chairmen.

In the most sweeping shuffle of leaders since the Republicans seized control of the House in 1994, several of the chamber's highly placed lawmakers were bumped from their posts under a six-year term limit imposed on committee chairmen when the party took control.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert announces the committee chairs  

Consideration of their fates took place late Thursday afternoon in a lengthy, closed-door Capitol Hill meeting.

"We're very, very happy with the decisions we've made," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, when the gathering adjourned.

"Our problem was an embarrassment of riches. In many cases, we found three or four people qualified to play the role of chairman," Hastert said.

The first axe to fall in that meeting hit Henry Hyde, R-Illinois, the leader of the House Judiciary Committee. Hyde lost his bid to retain the chairmanship of the committee -- the post that made him a Republican hero during the impeachment of President Clinton.

Taking his place on the panel will be longtime member James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin.

Hyde was instead given control of the International Relations committee. He had asked for a waiver of the term limits rule for chairmen so he might stay put at Judiciary, but that request was turned down, GOP sources said.

Rep. Henry Hyde lost his bid to retain chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee  

With Hyde's ascension to the International Relations chair, New Yorker Benjamin Gilman now finds himself deprived of his longtime chairmanship.

The House Republicans also appointed Rep. Bill Thomas to head the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, choosing the California Republican known for his quick temper -- and his ability to grasp the most complex issues -- over Rep. Philip Crane of Illinois.

Thomas and Crane waged a bitter battle for the post, with Crane insisting that he was more capable of getting along amicably with his colleagues than was Thomas.

Thomas, 59, will replace Texas Republican Bill Archer, who retired. As head of the Ways and Means Committee, Thomas will be a key player in ushering President-elect George W. Bush's proposed $1.3 trillion tax cut package through the House. He headed the panel's health subcommittee and was a key architect of a bill last year restoring billions of dollars in Medicare funding to U.S. health care providers.

The Ways and Means Committee also oversees the Medicare health program for the elderly, and will play a pivotal role in efforts to provide seniors with prescription drug coverage.

Others rotated out of their chairs were Floyd Spence of South Carolina at Armed Services, replaced by Bob Stump of Arizona; Don Young from the Resources Committee, replaced by James Hansen of Utah; and Bud Shuster of Pennsylvania, who loses his Transportation chair.

Shuster announced Thursday that he would resign his House seat at the end of January. He was replaced on the committee by Young, the Alaska Republican who moved over from Resources.

Other powerful committee chairmen, including Archer, John Kasich of Ohio at Budget and Thomas Bliley of Virginia at Commerce, retired at the end of the last session rather than accept lesser committee posts.

Command of the Budget Committee was assumed by Rep. Jim Nussle of Iowa.

Rep. Billy Tauzin will chair the Commerce Committee  

A lengthy battle between Reps. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana and Michael Oxley of Ohio, which raged through much of last year, was sidestepped earlier in the week when Republicans abolished the Banking Committee and created a new Financial Services Committee with some duties drawn from the Commerce panel.

Oxley takes over the new panel, with Tauzin claiming the chair of a scaled-down Commerce Committee.

In other appointments, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the former head of the House Republican Conference, takes over the Education and the Workforce Committee; Rep. Sherwood Boehlert of New York will now helm the Science Committee; Donald Manzullo of Illinois takes over the Small Business Committee; and Chris Smith of New Jersey became chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee.

The term limits rule was pushed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Republicans who took power after the 1994 election.

They argued the limit would keep the panel chiefs from becoming too entrenched and cozy with special interests, but critics argue that it will take away many of the chamber's most effective, knowledgeable and influential leaders.

Shortly after the elections in November, Republicans rejected a move to scrap the term limits rule.

A few key committees will be unaffected by the scramble as their chairmen have served less than three terms, including Agriculture, led by Larry Combest of Texas; Appropriations, led by Florida Bill's Young; Rules, chaired by David Dreier of California, and Select Intelligence, led by Porter Goss of Florida.

CNN's Jonathan Karl, Ian Christopher McCaleb and Reuters contributed to this report.


Thursday, January 4, 2001



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